Optics made to measure

Joint spin-off of LMU Munich and MPG established

18-Sep-2009 - Germany

If you are in the business of developing high-speed electronic components, it pays not to lose sight of the electrons. To keep track of them you will need to use dedicated optical elements, such as those now on offer from UltraFast Innovations GmbH. The new company, which has just been founded by researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich and the Max Planck Society (MPG), manufactures specialized mirrors and other optical elements for use with pulsed laser light and x-rays. These components allow to generate and manipulate ultrashort light pulses. Pulses of extremely short duration, in turn, make it possible to observe the movement of the electrons in atoms and molecules in real time. Mirrors suitable for this purpose have only been commercially available to a limited extent until now. They will be of interest to companies that manufacture laser systems for industrial applications, as well as to research groups in the area of quantum and x-ray optics. LMU Munich and the MPG each have a 50% stake in the new joint-venture.

The research teams led by Ferenc Krausz, director at the Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics and professor at LMU, and Ulf Kleineberg, who is also a professor at LMU include leading experts in the field of specialized optics.

Chirped mirrors allow one, for example, to compensate for the phenomenon of material-dependent dispersion, which occurs if the reflective surface delays light of different colors to different degrees – an effect that can increase pulse duration. Indeed, it was the ability of the chirped mirror to diminish this effect that first enabled the generation of ultrashort light pulses. With the aid of such mirrors, researchers were able, in 2008, to produce flashes that lasted for only 80 attoseconds, in this way breaking the 100-attosecond barrier for the first time, and creating the shortest light pulses ever generated in the laboratory. In 80 attoseconds light travels a distance of less than one thousandth of a millimeter.

"Such light pulses give us the opportunity to observe the movements of electrons in atoms and molecules in real time", explains Dr. Jens Rauschenberger, a member of Ferenc Krausz's research group and managing director of the new company. "It is like using a camera. To capture a sharp image of a fast-moving object, you need very short exposure times."

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