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Direct Visualization of Light-Driven Atomic-Scale Carrier Dynamics in Space and Time

Project description

Ultrafast lasers hold promise for high-speed electronics

Electronics are rapidly accelerating, with miniaturisation approaching atomic dimensions and switching speeds reaching optical frequencies. Lightwave electronics, where atomic-scale charges are controlled by few-cycle laser fields, could advance information processing to a thousand times faster than microwave frequencies. Realising lightwave electronics depends on the ability to measure electronic motion within and around atoms. Funded by the European Research Council, the DIVI project aims to provide direct visualisation of electronic motion with subatomic spatial resolution and sub-optical-cycle time resolution. DIVI will use stroboscopic electron microscopy and diffraction to visualise fundamental electronic activity in space and time. The study of light-matter interactions in various materials on the atomic scale offers new insight into the future of high-speed electronics.


Electronics is rapidly speeding up. Ultimately, miniaturization will reach atomic dimensions and the switching speed will reach optical frequencies. This ultimate regime of lightwave electronics, where atomic-scale charges are controlled by few-cycle laser fields, holds promise to advance information processing technology from today’s microwave frequencies to the thousand times faster regime of optical light fields. All materials, including dielectrics, semiconductors and molecular crystals, react to such field oscillations with an intricate interplay between atomic-scale charge displacements (polarizations) and collective carrier motion on the nanometer scale (currents). This entanglement provides a rich set of potential mechanisms for switching and control. However, our ability to eventually realize lightwave electronics, or even to make first steps, will critically depend on our ability to actually measure electronic motion in the relevant environment: within/around atoms. The most fundamental approach would be a direct visualization in space and time. This project, if realized, will offer that: a spatiotemporal recording of electronic motion with sub-atomic spatial resolution and sub-optical-cycle time resolution, i.e. picometers and few-femtoseconds/attoseconds. Drawing on our unique combination of expertise covering electron diffraction and few-cycle laser optics likewise, we will replace the photon pulses of conventional attosecond spectroscopy with freely propagating single-electron pulses at picometer de Broglie wavelength, compressed in time by sculpted laser fields. Stroboscopic diffraction/microscopy will provide, after playback of the image sequence, a direct visualization of fundamental electronic activity in space and time. Profound study of atomic-scale light-matter interaction in simple and complex materials will provide a comprehensive picture of the fundamental physics allowing or limiting the high-speed electronics of the future.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 110 000,00
78464 Konstanz

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Baden-Württemberg Freiburg Konstanz
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 110 000,00

Beneficiaries (2)