Press Release: The Inner Lives of Molecules

Press Release: The Inner Lives of Molecules

Our latest work with the PImMS camera, femtosecond VUV pulses, and velocity-map imaging, has been picked up for a press release by AIP.

The Inner Lives of Molecules

New method takes 3-D images of molecules in action

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 4, 2017 — Quantum mechanics rules. It dictates how particles and forces interact, and thus how atoms and molecules work — for example, what happens when a molecule goes from a higher-energy state to a lower-energy one. But beyond the simplest molecules, the details become very complex.

“Quantum mechanics describes how all this stuff works,” said Paul Hockett of the National Research Council of Canada. “But as soon as you go beyond the two-body problem, you can’t solve the equations.” So, physicists must rely on computer simulations and experiments.

Now, he and an international team of researchers from Canada, the U.K. and Germany have developed a new experimental technique to take 3-D images of molecules in action. This tool, he said, can help scientists better understand the quantum mechanics underlying bigger and more complex molecules.

The new method, described in The Journal of Chemical Physics, from AIP Publishing, combines two technologies. The first is a camera developed at Oxford University, called the Pixel-Imaging Mass Spectrometry (PImMS) camera. The second is a femtosecond vacuum ultraviolet light source built at the NRC femtolabs in Ottawa.

Mass spectrometry is a method used to identify unknown compounds and to probe the structure of molecules. In most types of mass spectrometry, a molecule is fragmented into atoms and smaller molecules that are then separated by molecular weight. In time-of-flight mass spectrometry, for example, an electric field accelerates the fragmented molecule. The speed of those fragments depends on their mass and charge, so to weigh them, you measure how long it takes for them to hit the detector.

Most conventional imaging detectors, however, can’t discern exactly when one particular particle hits. To measure timing, researchers must use methods that effectively act as shutters, which let particles through over a short time period. Knowing when the shutter is open gives the time-of-flight information. But this method can only measure particles of the same mass, corresponding to the short time the shutter is open.

The PImMS camera, on the other hand, can measure particles of multiple masses all at once. Each pixel of the camera’s detector can time when a particle strikes it. That timing information produces a three-dimensional map of the particles’ velocities, providing a detailed 3-D image of the fragmentation pattern of the molecule.

To probe molecules, the researchers used this camera with a femtosecond vacuum ultraviolet laser. A laser pulse excites the molecule into a higher-energy state, and just as the molecule starts its quantum mechanical evolution — after a few dozen femtoseconds –another pulse is fired. The molecule absorbs a single photon, a process that causes it to fall apart. The PImMS camera then snaps a 3-D picture of the molecular debris.

By firing a laser pulse at later and later times at excited molecules, the researchers can use the PImMS camera to take snapshots of molecules at various stages while they fall into lower energy states. The result is a series of 3-D blow-by-blow images of a molecule changing states.

The researchers tested their approach on a molecule called C2F3I. Although a relatively small molecule, it fragmented into five different products in their experiments. The data and analysis software is available online as part of an open science initiative, and although the results are preliminary, Hockett said, the experiments demonstrate the power of this technique.

“It’s effectively an enabling technology to actually do these types of experiments at all,” Hockett said. It only takes a few hours to collect the kind of data that would take a few days using conventional methods, allowing for experiments with larger molecules that were previously impossible.

Then researchers can better answer questions like: How does quantum mechanics work in larger, more complex systems? How do excited molecules behave and how do they evolve?

“People have been trying to understand these things since the 1920s,” Hockett said. “It’s still a very open field of investigation, research, and debate because molecules are really complicated. We have to keep trying to understand them.”

Text reproduced from AIP.

The article, Time-resolved multi-mass ion imaging: femtosecond UV-VUV pump-probe spectroscopy with the PImMS camera, is now published in the Journal of Chemical Physics, and also available via the arXiv 1702.00744 and Authorea (original text), DOI: 10.22541/au.149030711.19068540.

The full dataset and analysis scripts are available via OSF, DOI: 10.17605/OSF.IO/RRFK3.

Reading today…

Reading today…

Nonlinear quantum optics mediated by Rydberg interactions

O Firstenberg, C S Adams and S Hofferberth

Published 30 June 2016© 2016 IOP Publishing Ltd
Journal of Physics B: Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics, Volume 49, Number 15
Special Issue on Rydberg Atomic Physics

By mapping the strong interaction between Rydberg excitations in ultra-cold atomic ensembles onto single photons via electromagnetically induced transparency, it is now possible to realize a medium which exhibits a strong optical nonlinearity at the level of individual photons. We review the theoretical concepts and the experimental state-of-the-art of this exciting new field, and discuss first applications in the field of all-optical quantum information processing.

DOI: 10.1088/0953-4075/49/15/152003

Fascinating insight into the topic, which utilises the properties of Rydberg matter to enable traditional non-linear optics to cross over to the quantum regime. From the intro:

One remarkable success of advances in ultra-cold Rydberg physics is the realization of a medium with a large optical nonlinearity at the single photon level [1–3]. Highly excited Rydberg atoms bring something new to the history of optics as they enable quantum nonlinear media where photons are strongly interacting!


Phonon-Mediated Nonclassical Interference in Diamond

Phonon-Mediated Nonclassical Interference in Diamond

New paper in PRL:

Phonon-Mediated Nonclassical Interference in Diamond

Duncan G. England, Kent A. G. Fisher, Jean-Philippe W. MacLean, Philip J. Bustard, Khabat Heshami, Kevin J. Resch, and Benjamin J. Sussman
Phys. Rev. Lett. 117, 073603 – Published 11 August 2016


Quantum interference of single photons is a fundamental aspect of many photonic quantum processing and communication protocols. Interference requires that the multiple pathways through an interferometer be temporally indistinguishable to within the coherence time of the photon. In this Letter, we use a diamond quantum memory to demonstrate interference between quantum pathways, initially temporally separated by many multiples of the optical coherence time. The quantum memory can be viewed as a light-matter beam splitter, mapping a THz-bandwidth single photon to a variable superposition of the output optical mode and stored phononic mode. Because the memory acts both as a beam splitter and as a buffer, the relevant coherence time for interference is not that of the photon, but rather that of the memory. We use this mechanism to demonstrate nonclassical single-photon and two-photon interference between quantum pathways initially separated by several picoseconds, even though the duration of the photons themselves is just 250fs.

Quantum memories: emerging applications and recent advances

Quantum memories: emerging applications and recent advances

New article in the Journal of Modern Optics

Pages 2005-2028 | Received 06 Nov 2015, Accepted 27 Dec 2015, Published online: 16 Mar 2016


Quantum light–matter interfaces are at the heart of photonic quantum technologies. Quantum memories for photons, where non-classical states of photons are mapped onto stationary matter states and preserved for subsequent retrieval, are technical realizations enabled by exquisite control over interactions between light and matter. The ability of quantum memories to synchronize probabilistic events makes them a key component in quantum repeaters and quantum computation based on linear optics. This critical feature has motivated many groups to dedicate theoretical and experimental research to develop quantum memory devices. In recent years, exciting new applications, and more advanced developments of quantum memories, have proliferated. In this review, we outline some of the emerging applications of quantum memories in optical signal processing, quantum computation and non-linear optics. We review recent experimental and theoretical developments, and their impacts on more advanced photonic quantum technologies based on quantum memories.


Game-changers: Next-generation quantum technologies

Game-changers: Next-generation quantum technologies

Our very own Ben Sussman writes about Canadian Photonics and the disruptive quantum revolution on Vanguard:

“Canada has an enviable history of strength in photonics research and technology development, with an international reputation and advanced research facilities that continue to attract some of the brightest minds.  Ottawa is the birthplace of several groundbreaking communication technologies, including fibre Bragg gratings (FBGs) and the foundations of coherent optical communication…”

… read the full article on Vanguard