Think the super slo-mo on ESPN is good? The London Center for Nanotechnology has filmed a nanometer-sized gold crystal at a billion frames per second, capturing the movement of electrons like never before. For comparison, a typical baseball pitch filmed at a billion frames per second - as opposed to the normal thousands of frames per second - would take nearly 16 years to watch.
Imaging electron activity in gold gives scientists a better understanding of how gold behaves under exotic conditions and could prove useful when adapting gold particles to new technologies.
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To make their billion-fps movie, the experimenters hit the gold with a pulse of infrared light that heated the electrons in the gold atoms. As a result, the electrons started "ringing like a bell, " said Jesse Clark, a postdoctoral researcher at University College who is lead author on the paper describing the experiment.
Next, the team used an X-ray laser at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, called the Linac Coherent Light Source, to light up the vibrating electrons. The X-rays function like the flash on a camera to illuminate the scene and "freeze" all motion of the atoms in any sample, leaving only the electrons still moving.