As short as an attosecond…Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 by Roberto Saracco
Imagine a billionth of a second, well it is pretty difficult. Let’s say that a billionth of a second is as far to a second as one second is far from 33 years (in 33 years you have a billion of seconds). In a billionth of a second a light beam will move just 33cm! And light is pretty fast.
Now take that billionth of a second and divide it by one billion. What you have is an “attosecond”, a billionth of a billionth of a second. In that attosecond a light beam will travel a distance of 3 angstrom, that is a distance 3 atoms long!
Well, this is actually the feat achieved by researchers at the Imperial College in London! They managed to generate a laser pulse for an attosecond and they expect this can help other scientists in getting a better understanding of some nature processes, like photosyntheses.
To imagine why it would be so think at those pictures showing a bullet that is going through an apple. You have surely see those pictures, just in case you can see one here.
To take such a picture you have to freeze the image using a very short burst of light. Well, with the burst of light lasting one attosecond scientists hope to be able to freeze the movements of atoms in chemical reactions, that is to “see” the electrons binding atoms to form molecules and hence get a much better understanding of processes like photosynthesis.
Understanding these processes means to be able to mimic them (potentially) and hence to create better solar panels (as an example).
This is just an example of a general trend of science, moving to the nano dimension, to the dimension at which Nature works. And this will bring a lot of innovation to our world!