Reconstruction and control of a time-dependent two-electron wave packet

Nature. 2014 Dec 18;516(7531):374-8. doi: 10.1038/nature14026.


The concerted motion of two or more bound electrons governs atomic and molecular non-equilibrium processes including chemical reactions, and hence there is much interest in developing a detailed understanding of such electron dynamics in the quantum regime. However, there is no exact solution for the quantum three-body problem, and as a result even the minimal system of two active electrons and a nucleus is analytically intractable. This makes experimental measurements of the dynamics of two bound and correlated electrons, as found in the helium atom, an attractive prospect. However, although the motion of single active electrons and holes has been observed with attosecond time resolution, comparable experiments on two-electron motion have so far remained out of reach. Here we show that a correlated two-electron wave packet can be reconstructed from a 1.2-femtosecond quantum beat among low-lying doubly excited states in helium. The beat appears in attosecond transient-absorption spectra measured with unprecedentedly high spectral resolution and in the presence of an intensity-tunable visible laser field. We tune the coupling between the two low-lying quantum states by adjusting the visible laser intensity, and use the Fano resonance as a phase-sensitive quantum interferometer to achieve coherent control of the two correlated electrons. Given the excellent agreement with large-scale quantum-mechanical calculations for the helium atom, we anticipate that multidimensional spectroscopy experiments of the type we report here will provide benchmark data for testing fundamental few-body quantum dynamics theory in more complex systems. They might also provide a route to the site-specific measurement and control of metastable electronic transition states that are at the heart of fundamental chemical reactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't