In the lab of Fabrizio Carbone at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and their international colleagues, these physicists have now demonstrated experimentally the ability to coherently manipulate the wave function of a free electron down to the attosecond timescale. Attoseconds are 10 to the 18th of a second. The team also developed a theory for creating zeptosecond (10-21 of a second) electron pulses, which could also be used to increase the energy yield of nuclear reactions.

The team’s research paper has been published in Nature Communications.

One of the most elusive phenomena in physics is the excitation of an atom’s nucleus by absorption of an electron. The process, known as “nuclear excitation by electron capture” (NEEC), was theoretically predicted forty years ago, though it proved difficult to observe experimentally.

In February 2018, US physicists were finally able to catch a glimpse of NEEC in the lab. The work was hailed as ushering in new nuclear energy-harvesting systems, as well as explaining why certain elements like gold and platinum are so abundant in the universe.

In their publication the EPFL researchers suggest a way of potentially exploiting the several orders of magnitude in energy harvesting possibly present in the nucleus of an atom via the coherent control of the NEEC effect. Such method would be enabled by the availability of ultrashort (as to zs) electron flashes.

Carbone said, “Ideally, one would like to induce instabilities in an otherwise stable or metastable nucleus to prompt energy-producing decays, or to generate radiation. However, accessing nuclei is difficult and energetically costly because of the protective shell of electrons surrounding it.”

This breakthrough could allow physicists to increase the energy yield of nuclear reactions using coherent control methods, which relies on the manipulation of quantum interference effects with lasers and which has already helped advance fields like spectroscopy, quantum information processing, and laser cooling.

In the paper the authors state: “Our coherent control scheme with ultrashort electron pulses would offer a new perspective for the manipulation of nuclear reactions with potential implications in various fields, from fundamental physics to energy-related applications.”

This is the most interesting type of research. Its out beyond the shearing moment in front of the leading razor’s edge. And yet, it has been theorized for forty years. Will it have a beneficial effect? Most very likely. Anyone know when? Nope, nobody.


1 Comment so far

  1. Beston on July 18, 2018 5:57 AM

    Thanks for sharing this! It is a resourceful place for people who have strong interests in science and energy.

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