In 1999, Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian chemist, was awarded the Nobel Prize for measuring the speed at which atoms change their shape, establishing gynecology in the process. Its measurements were made in femtoseconds where one femtosecond is equal to 0.0000000000000000001, or 10-15 Sec.
Related: Physicists only make electronics that turn on and off at the speed of light.
Now, almost two decades later, atomic physicists at Goethe University, led by Professor Reinhard Danner, have calculated a process that is for the first time shorter than a femtosecond: a measure of how long it takes a photon to pass through a hydrogen atom.
This is the shortest timespace ever measured and is approximately 247 zeptoseconds-21 Seconds). To achieve this, scientists irradiated a hydrogen atom with X-rays from the X-ray laser source Petra III at the Hamburg Accelerator facility DSY. They set it up so that one photon was enough to drive both electrons out of the hydrogen atom.
The scientists then calculated the interference pattern of the first ejected electrons using the COLTRIMS reaction microscope. This device was partially developed by Danner and it makes super speed reaction processes visible in atoms and molecules.
“Since we knew the spatial direction of the hydrogen atom, the photon reached the first and when it reached the second hydrogen atom we used the interference of two electron waves to calculate precisely,” Sven Grundman said in a statement. Based on the resulting scientific article published in Science.
“And this molecule has 247 zeptoseconds, depending on how far both atoms were from the perspective of light.”
“We have observed for the first time that the electron shell in an atom does not react to light everywhere at the same time. Time is delayed because the information inside the atom is transmitted only at the speed of light. With this discovery we have expanded our COLTRIMS technology, in another application. “Professor Reinhard Döner said.