Observing atomic processes

Microchips are becoming smaller and smaller: hard drives write entire encyclopedias on discs the size of a fingernail. Many processes take place at the atomic level - and little is known about them. Now PSI researchers have reached a milestone.

PSI researcher Cristian Svetina at the experiment station of the SwissFEL, Switzerland's X-ray free-electron laser.

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have succeeded in doing what scientists worldwide thought impossible: using X-ray lasers to look inside materials and record high-resolution videos of atomic processes.

There is an increasing demand for such methods as microchip structures become increasingly tiny: Entire encyclopedias are now being written on magnetic disks the size of fingernails, a PSI statement said. "But if you want to push technical miniaturization further, you have to understand such phenomena at the atomic level."

This is made possible by a method called Transient Grating Spectroscopy. The method is not new - what makes it special is the combination and extension of known methods from nonlinear laser physics with the X-ray light from the new X-ray free-electron laser SwissFEL.

"In this combination, it is both new and surprising," PSI said. Numerous other research teams around the world had made unsuccessful attempts with it, it said. Finally, it was even doubted that, with the high energies of X-rays, these new experiments could be successful at all. "The team at PSI has proven: Yes, it can be done."

Written by: sda

Photos: PSI

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