Scientists in Germany led by a Greek created the fastest electronic signal

The electron pulse lasted just 53 attoseconds, or 53 billionths of a billionth of a second

His creation faster electronic signal ever achieved in electronics science, scientists at Germany led by a Greek diaspora researcher. The electron pulse lasted just 53 attoseconds, or 53 billionths of a billionth of a second. It’s about new world speed record in the human control of electric currents in solid materials, opening new avenues for better performance in electronics and IT technologies, as well as for monitoring microcosm phenomena.

How fast a computer or any other electronic device works depends crucially on how fast the electrons move inside the microprocessor’s transistors. Accelerating this process is central to the evolution of electronics and the expansion of their capabilities.

The researchers from the University of Rostock and the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Stuttgart, in charge of Eleftherio Goulielmaki, professor of Physics and head of the Extreme Photonics group in Rostock, made the relevant publication in the journal “Nature”. The pulse they achieved is so fast that it paves the way for even more precise electron microscopes capable of capturing images of electrons as they ‘jump’ between atoms, as well as speeding up data transmission to computer ‘chips’.

Electrons in the fast lane

Electron pulses are used in microscopes or computers, and the shorter (faster) they are, the higher the information transmission rate and the higher the resolution of the images. E. Goulielmakis has been working on exactly this goal for years.

In 2016, the Greek physicist from the diaspora had again achieved a double world first: he created the shortest pulses of light and with them he measured how long it takes the electrons inside the atoms of matter to react to the light. Its “flash” “flashed” every 380 billionths of a billionth of a second.

Goulielmakis then created and measured the fastest electric current inside a solid material. Using ultrafast laser pulses, he accelerated the current’s electrons to make eight million billion oscillations per second, setting a new record for the frequency of electric current inside solid materials.

Now, using a similar technique, he achieved an electron pulse of 53 attoseconds that is even shorter than the high-speed pulses of laser light that aimed electrons away from a tiny tungsten metal spike. As he reported, the record-breaking electron pulse lasted a fifth of the time it would take an electron in a hydrogen atom to complete an orbit around its nucleus.

Although it has long been known that light can ‘free’ electrons from metals – Einstein was the first to explain how – the whole process is terribly difficult to manipulate. The light’s electric field changes its direction about a million billion times a second, making it very difficult to “eject” electrons from the surface of metals controlled by laser light. To overcome the problem, Goulielmakis and his colleagues used a technique they had developed, while also developing a new kind of camera that can “catch” the electrons as the laser “shoots” them from the metal to the vacuum.

New perspectives and applications for the future

As Mr. Goulielmakis stated to APE-MPE, “the precise control of electron movement using lasers in combination with nanotechnology may allow in the near future the development of a new class of electronic devices with incomparably higher capabilities than the current ones. In the coming years, we plan to use attosecond electron pulses as high-speed, high-definition video cameras to record and understand complex phenomena inside matter. Many of these phenomena are unimaginably fast, only a technology like the one we developed can potentially observe them in real time.”

“The immediate and effective use of new materials in information technology, chemistry and environmental protection depends significantly on a detailed understanding of the properties of these materials. We are convinced that ultrafast electron pulses can play an important role in revealing many secrets of the microcosm,” added the Greek scientist, who is also an (external) member of the board of directors of the University of Ioannina.

According to him, “the attosecond electron pulse will help make an electron microscope’s image analysis fast enough to capture electrons in motion. If we create electron microscopes that use attosecond electron pulses, then we will have sufficient resolution not only to see atoms in motion, which is certainly exciting, but to even see electrons jumping between atoms.”

Mr. Goulielmakis was born in Heraklion, Crete in 1975, graduated from the Physics Department of the University of Crete in 2000 and received his PhD from the University of Munich in 2005. Since 2010 he has been the head of the Attoelectronics Group of the Attophysics Laboratory of the Max Institute for Quantum Optics Planck in Garzing, Germany, while he is currently a professor at the University of Rostock. Among other distinctions, in 2007 he was awarded the “G. Foteinou” of the Academy of Athens, in 2012 with the “Gustav Hertz” prize of the German Physical Society and in 2015 with the “Rötgen” prize of the Justus Liebig University of Giessen.

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