The gas-phase structures of four difluoroiodobenzene and two dihydroxybromobenzene isomers were identified by correlating the emission angles of atomic fragment ions created, following femtosecond laser-induced Coulomb explosion. The structural determinations were facilitated by confining the most polarizable axis of each molecule to the detection plane prior to the Coulomb explosion event using one-dimensional laser-induced adiabatic alignment. For a molecular target consisting of two difluoroiodobenzene isomers, each constituent structure could additionally be singled out and distinguished.
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.”
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.
UPDATE: Dec. 2017
The figure above has made it as the JCP Christmas card!
UPDATE: 4th April 2017
The article is now published in the Journal of Chemical Physics, with an accompanying press release, The Inner Lives of Molecules, from AIP.
The full dataset and analysis scripts are now also available via OSF, DOI: 10.17605/OSF.IO/RRFK3.
Feb. 2017 – new article on the arXiv:
Time-resolved multi-mass ion imaging: femtosecond UV-VUV pump-probe spectroscopy with the PImMS camera
The Pixel-Imaging Mass Spectrometry (PImMS) camera allows for 3D charged particle imaging measurements, in which the particle time-of-flight is recorded along with (x,y) position. Coupling the PImMS camera to an ultrafast pump-probe velocity-map imaging spectroscopy apparatus therefore provides a route to time-resolved multi-mass ion imaging, with both high count rates and large dynamic range, thus allowing for rapid measurements of complex photofragmentation dynamics. Furthermore, the use of vacuum ultraviolet wavelengths for the probe pulse allows for an enhanced observation window for the study of excited state molecular dynamics in small polyatomic molecules having relatively high ionization potentials. Herein, preliminary time-resolved multi-mass imaging results from C2F3I photolysis are presented. The experiments utilized femtosecond UV and VUV (160.8~nm and 267~nm) pump and probe laser pulses in order to demonstrate and explore this new time-resolved experimental ion imaging configuration. The data indicates the depth and power of this measurement modality, with a range of photofragments readily observed, and many indications of complex underlying wavepacket dynamics on the excited state(s) prepared.
Now published in JCP:
The Journal of Chemical Physics 147, 013911 (2017);
UPDATE April 2017 – Some of this work is now published, and data is also available, see Time-resolved multi-mass ion imaging: femtosecond UV-VUV pump-probe spectroscopy with the PImMS camera for details.
Last week was a busy week, with Prof. Claire Vallance (and two colleagues) visiting to help with technology transfer for our Direct Ion Detection project, based on their previous work in this area. As well as preparing some scintillator coatings, we also had the opportunity to try out another flavour of the new detector technologies they’ve been developing, in the form of the time-resolved PImMS camera. The goal for future detector development is to combine these technologies for a single, on-chip, ion detection solution.
The images below show the camera attached to our velocity-map imaging (VMI) chamber and VUV source.