What happens when you explode a chemical bond? Something a bit like this, apparently.
Chemists at the University of California, Berkeley, US, used some of the shortest laser pulses available – one quintillionth of a second – to follow electrons indecisively bouncing around in various states in a molecule before the bond breaks, and the atoms go their separate ways.
In this image, a femtosecond pulse of visible light (green) triggers the breakup of iodine monobromide molecules (centre), while attosecond XUV laser pulses (blue) take snapshots of the molecules.
This allowed the team to essentially make a movie of the evolution of electronic states (yellow lights around molecules) before the molecules blow apart.
They say the technique, reported in the journal Science, will help chemists understand and potentially manipulate chemical reactions stimulated by light – so-called photochemical reactions.
And there are practical applications. Ultraviolet light shatters the links between atoms in the DNA of skin cells, for example, and breaks oxygen bonds, eventually creating ozone.