The Dance of Atoms, Molecules and Electrons
Our world is composed of molecules and atoms. It is generally thought that form dictates function—the static shape of a particular molecule or the structure of a solid determines what it does.
However, just as a ballet cannot be understood from a single snapshot, complex and dynamic molecular processes like vision, photosynthesis and chemical reactions cannot be understood from a static perspective.
Dr. Albert Stolow, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Photonics at the University of Ottawa, uses ultrafast laser technology to make ‘movies’ of atoms, molecules and electrons undergoing their dynamical processes. Stolow’s research expands our structural view of nature by developing a “molecular choreography”. He also uses coherent laser pulses to create new “molecular ballets,” directing chemical reactions to undergo novel pathways.
Stolow and his team are developing new laser sources that produce ultrashort pulses ranging from infrared to X-rays. These ultrashort pulses let the researchers observe and control some of the fastest processes in nature—electronic and atomic motions. Combining these lasers with advanced molecular beam and particle detection techniques, the team creates ultrafast “movies” revealing how bonds rearrange and atoms move during molecular processes, including chemical reactions.
Use special optical techniques to shape laser pulses, Stolow and his team have also developed new forms of optical microscopy, allowing real-time label-free videos of live cells.
Stolow’s ultrafast laser research will increase our understanding of the dynamic processes which underpin all chemical and biological processes. This will lead to significant advances in molecular devices and biomedical imaging, as well as photoactivated drugs, catalysts and other responsive materials.