How can we control electronic currents in ever smaller and faster circuits for developing more powerful computers and telecommunication systems? How is the structure of molecules affected by electronic excitation? Could it be modified by steering the electrons that mediate the chemical bonds? How does radiation damage to biological systems happen? Can it be minimized for improved bioimaging or its selectivity maximized for more efficient radiotherapies? These are merely a few of the many grand scientific questions of the twenty-first century that cannot be answered without better understanding and control of the microscopic motion of electrons.
Research at the Joint LMU-MPQ Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (LAP) aims at developing basic tools for real-time observation and control of electronic motion – individual or collective – on the atomic scale, in all forms of matter: within atoms, molecules, and plasmas; in solids and on surfaces. As a key tool, controlled light waves exert a strong force on electrons that is variable at ultrahigh speed. One of the most striking implications of this force has been the generation and measurement of ultraviolet light lasting merely a few hundred attoseconds. They are the shortest events created and measured to date. This progress led to the first freeze-frame snapshots of quantum transitions of electrons.
Research at LAP centers on advancing attosecond technology to ever shorter wavelengths of the carrier light. It is motivated by the ultimate goal of probing the transient electronic structure of matter with attosecond resolution in time and picometer resolution in space. Another goal is steering electrons with light on the atomic scale with increasing precision and degree of control. This holds promise for developing electronics and all related technologies to their ultimate limits. Accelerating electrons to relativistic energies and steering their motion with ultraintense controlled light will pave the way towards compact ultrabrilliant particle and x-ray sources, which may revolutionize structural biology as well as cancer diagnosis and therapy.