Purdue University Graduate School
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Ultrafast Dynamics of Excited Molecules probed using Nonlinear Spectroscopy

posted on 2024-04-23, 03:13 authored by Siddhant PandeySiddhant Pandey

Some of the simplest molecules that are found in abundance in nature, like oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water can be playgrounds for complex quantum mechanical phenomenon. Although we can calculate their static properties, like binding energies, equilibrium geometries and ionization/decay rates with extraordinary precision, their dynamics offer new avenues for exploration. Although analytical techniques have been successfully applied in studying single-particle and many-particle systems, few-particle systems like simple molecules are still best understood through a combination of numerical calculations and experimental work. However, the small size of these molecules endows them with dynamics that occur on timescales of a few picoseconds to a few attoseconds, making their experimental study challenging. The overarching goal of this work is the study of such ‘ultrafast’ dynamics in excited state molecules/atoms, by developing and demonstrating novel optical probes of quantum dynamics.

One way to probe ultrafast dynamics in molecules is by measuring their nonlinear optical response. Such a measurement can potentially track the evolution of the symmetries of excited molecules, shedding light on their transient dynamics. We start chapter 1 with a brief discussion of the formalism behind nonlinear optical spectroscopy. Direct measurement of ultrafast (and ultraweak) optical pulses is discussed as a useful probe of nonlinear processes. After presenting preliminary results on direct electric field reconstruction, experimental work on measuring emitted nonlinear electric fields from impulsively aligned molecules is discussed. In such an experiment, however, contributions from both aligned and unaligned molecules are present, and new experimental capabilities had to be developed to disentangle and measure the ultraweak signal from aligned molecules. Following a detailed discussion of the developed measurement capabilities, results from experiments done on aligned carbon dioxide and nitrogen molecules are discussed.

Unlike solids, where electronic states can be excited with visible/UV light, binding energies in isolated atoms/molecules are on the order of electron-volts (eVs), and they need vacuum-ultraviolet (VUV) extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) light to excite electronically. Polyatomic molecules, like ethylene, when excited to an electronic state with VUV light, often relax back to the ground state by redistributing energy to their internal degrees of freedom non-adiabatically. These relaxation pathways are important in many chemical and biological systems, and control the yield of chemical reactions ranging from elementary reactions involving few atoms to large biomolecules such as DNA and proteins. For instance, in the photochemical reaction of the protein Rhodopsin, considered to be the primary event in human vision. In chapter 2 we discuss progress made towards extending nonlinear response measurements to study ultrafast dynamics in electronically excited molecules, using a high-harmonic VUV source. Details about the design of the high-harmonic generation beamline, and preliminary experimental data are presented. In chapter 3 we discuss preliminary theoretical work on the development of an EUV entangled-photon source, using two-photon emission from the metastable 2s state in neutral Helium. Such a source, if demonstrated, can possibly even extended to the zeptosecond regime in the future.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Physics and Astronomy

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Niranjan Shivaram

Additional Committee Member 2

Chris Greene

Additional Committee Member 3

David Koltick

Additional Committee Member 4

Tongcang Li

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