Watching electrons in action

By James Michell Crow

An international team of researchers based in Colorado has captured the movements of single electrons in a chemical bond, using ultra-short x-ray pulses. The technique, which allows them to follow the movement of electrons across solar cells and other materials, was presented at the Australian Institute of Physics conference in Melbourne.

While x-rays have a long history in probing the tiniest of structures, the new technique is “like swapping a flashlight for a laser pointer”, says Margaret Murnane from the University of Colorado talking about the research she undertook with her husband Henry Kapteyn.

The x-ray pulses—only a billionth of a billionth of a second long—are being used to reveal the flow of energy and electrons in the fastest circuits, and in materials for energy recovery devices. The team are also using their approach to investigate physical phenomena as fundamental as magnetism.


Margaret Murnane,