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Seeing the light - quickly
Written by Gizmo   
Wednesday, 06 December 2006 14:41

There's an interesting article over at Science Daily about how scientists have managed to measure the wave pulse characteristics of a laser pulse that last just 10 femto-seconds.  To give you an idea of how fast that is, try this thought experiment: take one second; divide it into 1,000 equal pieces.  Each of those pieces now represent one milli-second.  Now, take one milli-second and divide that into 1,000 equal pieces.  Each of those pieces is a micro-second, or one millionth of a second.  Rinse and repeat, now you have a nano-second; one billionth of a second.  Another cycle, you have one pico-second, equal to one trillionth of a second.  Once more around, and you have one femto-second, which would be one quadrillionth of a second, or 1.0 E-15 of a second.

"This measurement technique is so accurate that we can determine the position of a peak in the pulse of electromagnetic waves from the laser with a precision of a mere 0.05 femtoseconds - in other words, 50 attoseconds. Also, the measurement can be made on individual pulses rather than by looking at the average properties of many pulses, so this is an important step forwards" said Dr. John Tisch of Imperial College of London.

To get an idea of how short an attosecond is start by taking a second.........oh, skip it; let's just say that it's a really, really short span of time!  Anyway, Dr. John reckons that these really short laser pulses will eventually give scientists the ability to directly manipulate electrons in leading-edge research at the sub-atomic level, and lead to a better understanding of the nature of matter.

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