A Fleeting Look at the Details of Photoemission

Patricia Daukantas

Thanks to cutting-edge ultrafast lasers, an international research team has measured how long it takes an atom to emit an electron after it has absorbed a single photon.


Scatterings imagePhotoemission of electrons by an attosecond light pulse (blue beam) is time-resolved by controlling the electron motion with an ultrashort visible laser pulse (red beam). This attosecond streaking reveals that electrons from different atomic orbitals are released with a delay comparable to the atomic unit of time.

Physicists have known about the photoelectric effect for well over a century, but some of the details have remained shrouded in mystery. For instance, after an atom has absorbed a single photon, how long does it take for it to emit an electron? And does that tiny lag time depend on which orbital expels the electron?

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