Attosecond science - Video

Attosecond science - Transcript

On screen: Dr. Paul Corkum explains attosecond science

So let me begin by saying what an attosecond is: it's incredibly short.

An attosecond is to a second, as a second is to the age of the universe.

Can you imagine something so short as that?

I could say it differently. An attosecond is a billionth of a second. And you take one of those billionth of a second and a billion again. And that's an attosecond. A billionth of a billionth of a second is one attosecond.

Now electrons move on the timescale of attoseconds. You sort of know that because they go such short distances and say atoms and molecules and they're very light, so they move very fast, and the forces on electrons are really strong.

And so, they change their environment in a few tens of attoseconds. And so, if you want to look at electrons and you want to see what happens to them, then you need attosecond science.

For example, you might try to do something to an atom and how fast do all the electrons respond to that, how fast can they get in. And that's the fastest timescale that electrons are able to have in materials.

On screen: Could you explain your specific scientific contribution to this field of research and its importance for its development?

I think it's for the model of how you make attosecond pulses. And it's incredibly simple. I can explain it to you, an audience that probably doesn't know about attosecond science to start with.

I do it by an analogy: I grew up by the ocean in New Brunswick. You may not have grown up at the ocean, but probably everybody's been to the ocean. And you see seaweed on a rock, and you can watch a wave come in and it picks up the seaweed and it moves it up and it brings it back down again and it crashes into the rock from which it left.

So that's the analogy of how attosecond pulses work. Imagine an atom—that's the rock. Along comes a light wave—that's the wave. It's a wave of force on an electron, just like a water wave is a wave of force on a seaweed. It pulls the electron away from the atom, but then it drives it back again, and it crashes into the atom from which it left. And in that crash, you create an attosecond pulse or maybe a few tenths of attoseconds. And that's how it's done. It's that simple.

[On screen: video footage credit © BBVA Foundation]

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