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Electrons surf a light wave – published in Nature Physics

Sketch of our experiment demonstrating inelastic electron scattering at an optical travelling wave in vacuum. The optical traveling wave is generated at the intersection point of the two laser fields and co-propagates with the electrons. Click on image for larger version.

Similar to surfers using the energy stored in sea waves to drive their motion towards the coast, elementary particles can surf a wave formed by tailored light fields. In a paper just published in Nature Physics, we have shown that the kinetic energy of electrons can be modulated on very short timescales by the interaction with an optical travelling wave. The wave is generated in vacuum by two colliding laser pulses with different colors. This novel way of ultrafast control of the electron motion brings about a new possibility of generating of attosecond electron pulses (several hundreds of attoseconds in duration, 1 as=10-18 s). This is of highest interest for studying the fastest phenomena occurring in nature with atomic spatial resolution. Apart from ultrafast physics, the demonstrated interaction is interesting for physics and applications dealing with the acceleration of electrons via their interaction with laser fields due to the demonstrated very high interaction strength.

The publication can be found here.

FAU issued a press release that can be found here.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which generously funded a large fraction of this work, comments on the results here.