Physics Department News Archive

September 1, 2004

Quantum Mechanical Interference Effect Reported

SIOUX FALLS - A multi-institutional team of physics researchers has announced the finding of a clear signature of quantum mechanical interference effects in electron emission from hydrogen molecules. The effect, reported in the September issue of Physical Review A, is analogous to the famous two-slit interference experiment done by Young, but rather than light emerging from two slits, it is electrons emerging from either nuclear center of a hydrogen atom that exhibit the wave-like interference effect. Previous experiments have reported this effect in the energy distribution of the emitted electrons, but that evidence was difficult to discern and required considerable theoretical interpretation. The current experiment, in contrast, provides an easily visible signature of the interference by looking at the probability of ionization occurring as a function of the relative angle between the internuclear axis of the hydrogen molecule and the charged particle that initiates the ionization process. Since such two-slit interference effects depend on the slit separation, or in this case, the internuclear distance, this clear signature might be useful for efforts to develop time dependent probes of molecular motion.

Institutions involved in the research are Auburn University, Augustana College (Sioux Falls), Kansas State University, Tulane University, and Western Michigan University.

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