Ultra-fast movements of atoms within a molecule have been observed for the first time ever, courtesy scientists led by Prof. Louis Di Mauro, a professor of physics at Ohio State University. The principle is simple: Shining light onto a molecule will excite the electrons of the atoms in the molecule. These electrons can then be the probe for the atomic movements within the molecule. The team used oxygen and nitrogen molecules, the simplest diatomic molecules you can get.
The team shone light on the molecules, which knocked out a single electron from one of the two atoms. This electron can then be reabsorbed into the molecule, but when that happens, it will interact with both the atoms. This interaction can be used to track back the potential between the atoms. Thus, we can probe the potential landscape within the molecule, using the interaction information of the electrons.
To probe the movement of the electrons, the team used an ultrafast laser, with a pulse width of 50 femtoseconds. That a millionths of a billions of a second!! Light travels just 300 nanometers in that time!
The technology required to image complicated molecules like protein is still far away.
Atomic interactions inside molecules may augur in great fortunes in the soon-to-come future.