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The general theme of the current research is the interaction of laser radiation with atomic matter, collisional processes in laser fields and atomic scattering phenomena. While the work is of a fundamental nature there is ample application in environmental physics and the physics of fusion plasmas. The use of computers for data transfer, modelling and covariance mapping is a path-way to techniques used in commerce.
Intense Laser Fields
In the interaction of short pulse (10-9 s - 10-14 s) high intensity radiation with molecules we study the fragmentation processes of molecules in laser fields of 1017 W/cm2 . This intensity is greater than that existing between the electron and proton in the ground state of atomic hydrogen. The dynamics of the molecule, re-orientation and symmetry changes are determined using a newly developed momentum imaging technique in which the molecular structure is imaged on a detector using the Coulomb explosion of the molecule. In a 30 fs pulse all natural molecular rotation and vibration is frozen during the interaction. New processes of molecular interactions with intense light fields are revealed.
Collision Processes in Laser Fields
In this area of research we study the interaction of free electrons with atoms and molecules while dressed by a laser field. The electron and atom can virtually exchange photons with the laser field before and after a collision. Only when a real collision occurs does the virtually dressed electron retain the extra photon energy and the structureless electron speeds up. This is Free-Free scattering. Additionally the combined energy, E, of an electron and n virtually absorbed photons, E + nhv, can cause excitation of real states of energy Ex when E < Ex . This process is Simultaneous Electron Photon Excitation (SEPE) and is the electron-photon analogue of two photon excitation.
Using High Resolution Electron Energy Loss Spectroscopy (HREELS) we measure the cross sections for excitation processes in molecules of atmospheric interest. In particular we study scattering from molecular excited states.
Good laser facilities providing 6 ns pulses with 0.8J/pulse at 1064 nm and 532 nm and 30 to 200 ps pulses with 60 microJ/pulse are available; also a continuous 400 W CO2 laser system is operational. In addition to the laser systems, several atomic scattering apparatus, HREELS and TOF, are available. Modern computer controlled data acquisition systems are in use.
Femtosecond laser pulses are available at the ASTRA facility at RAL.
The group currently has one PDRA and three research students. There are established collaborations with RAL, QUB and TMU.