Public Release:  Gold nanocrystal vibration captured on billion-frames-per-second film

University College London

A billon-frames-per-second film has captured the vibrations of gold nanocrystals in stunning detail for the first time.

The film, which was made using 3D imaging pioneered at the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) at UCL, reveals important information about the composition of gold. The findings are published in the journal Science.

Jesse Clark, from the LCN and lead author of the paper said: "Just as the sound quality of a musical instrument can provide great detail about its construction, so too can the vibrations seen in materials provide important information about their composition and functions."

"It is absolutely amazing that we are able to capture snapshots of these nanoscale motions and create movies of these processes. This information is crucial to understanding the response of materials after perturbation. "

Scientists found that the vibrations were unusual because they start off at exactly the same moment everywhere inside the crystal. It was previously expected that the effects of the excitation would travel across the gold nanocrystal at the speed of sound, but they were found to be much faster, i.e., supersonic.

The new images support theoretical models for light interaction with metals, where energy is first transferred to electrons, which are able to short-circuit the much slower motion of the atoms.

The team carried out the experiments at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory using a revolutionary X-ray laser called the "Linac Coherent Light Source". The pulses of X-rays are extremely short (measured in femtoseconds, or quadrillionths of a second), meaning they are able to freeze all motion of the atoms in any sample, leaving only the electrons still moving.

However, the X-ray pulses are intense enough that the team was able to take single snapshots of the vibrations of the gold nanocrystals they were examining. The vibration was started with a short pulse of infrared light.

The vibrations were imaged a short time later in 3D using the coherent diffraction imaging methods pioneered in LCN by the Robinson group. The 3D movies reveal in exquisite detail the distortions taking place within the nanocrystal, with the fastest vibrations repeating every 90 picoseconds.

Professor Robinson, also from the LCN and the group leader, said: "This work represents an impressive example of teamwork by about a hundred people at SLAC. The SLAC linear accelerator was built in 1957 in direct response to the news of Sputnik.

"After compelling 50 years of sensational high energy physics, that machine has been refitted as a laser by the addition of a 100m long array of magnets. This 3km-sized machine produces a beam which is focused onto a crystal smaller than a micron in a pulse so short that all motion of its atoms is frozen still."

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The research team included contributors from UCL, University of Oxford, SLAC, Argonne National Laboratory and LaTrobe University, Australia.

Notes for editors

1. For more information or to speak to Jesse Clark or Professor Ian Robinson, please contact Clare Ryan in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 3108 3846, mobile: +44 07747 556 056, out of hours +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail:clare.ryan@ucl.ac.uk

2. 'Ultrafast three dimensional imaging of lattice dynamics in gold nanocrystals' is published online today in the journal Science. For copies of the paper please contact UCL Media Relations.

3. An image of a snapshot of one of the vibration modes revealed by the experiment is available to journalists on request. Caption: The red and blue colours show alternating regions of compression and expansion imaged by the X-ray pulse in a gold crystal only 300 nanometers across. The pattern resembles the vibrations of the surface of a drum, but in 3D, a million times smaller and a billion times faster.

4. Short 3D films of the vibration of the gold nanocrystals are also available from UCL Media Relations.

About the London Centre for Nanotechnology

The London Centre for Nanotechnology is a UK-based multidisciplinary enterprise operating at the forefront of science and technology. Its purpose is to solve global problems in information processing, healthcare, energy and environment through the application of nanoscience and nanotechnology. Founded in 2003, the LCN is a joint venture between UCL (University College London) and Imperial College London. http://www.london-nano.com

About the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC)

SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. To learn more, please visit http://www.slac.stanford.edu

DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://www.science.energy.gov.

About UCL (University College London)

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine.

We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by our performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world.

UCL has nearly 25,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses - UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Our annual income is more than £800 million.

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