Home pageNewly on Gate2BiotechHow light affects individual atoms for the first time?

How light affects individual atoms for the first time?

Date: 4.12.2013 

Tyndall National Institute and its collaborators are unravelling how atoms vibrate and change when hit with intense bursts of light. The ground-breaking work has been recognised through publication of a paper in the prestigious journal, Nature Physics. Credit: Prof Stephen Fahy, Tyndall National Institute

The collaborative research, led at the Tyndall National Institute by Prof. Stephen Fahy, is currently using x-ray lasers to investigate how natural vibrations of molecules and solids are excited by intense bursts of light. The x-ray laser generates pulses so short that they can capture a snapshot of the moving atoms in less than a billionth of a billionth of a second, which enables researchers to better understand how individual atoms are affected when light is absorbed.

While current studies focus on movement of atoms in germanium, this is the first time that researchers have been able to look at any material in such detail. As the research progresses, it has the potential to revolutionise the speed and capacity of data transfer through optical fibres on the internet and even unlock how atom-level photosynthesis works, with the possibility for it to be replicated to increase energy storage capacity.

Explaining the significance of their research, Prof. Fahy, Materials Theory Group, Tyndall National Institute said: “Understanding and controlling how light alters the forces between atoms is central to our understanding of photo-chemistry and underpins many areas of energy science, such as photocatalysis. Tyndall and its collaborators are one of only a few groups worldwide with the ability to measure and calculate such atomic motion and we are delighted to have our work recognised by Nature.”

Congratulating the team on its publication success, Dr Kieran Drain, CEO Tyndall National Institute, said: “Nature research journals are among the most cited journals in the world, meaning more researchers read, use and reference material from papers published in these journals than any other. Publication of the work undertaken at Tyndall and with our wider partners demonstrates our strength in high-quality fundamental research and is excellent recognition for the ground-breaking work that is taking place at the Institute on a daily basis.”

The research paper was co-authored by researchers from SLAC National Research Laboratory, Stanford University, University of Michigan, Oxford University, ETH Zurich, Lund University and the University of Duisburg-Essen under the direction of Prof. David Reis, Stanford University Department of Applied Physics, who was also resident in Tyndall from April to June this year under the SFI Walton Visiting Fellow programme.

A 5-year programme of research on this topic at the Tyndall National Institute is currently funded by Science Foundation Ireland.

Author: Edel Bach

About Tyndall National Institute

Established with a mission to support industry and academia in driving research to market, Tyndall National Institute is one of Europe’s leading research centres in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) research and development and the largest facility of its type in Ireland. Established in 2004 as a successor to the National Microelectronics Research Centre (NMRC founded in 1982) at University College Cork, the Institute employs over 460 researchers, engineers and support staff, with a full-time graduate cohort of 135 students generating over 200 peer-reviewed publications each year. 

With a network of 200 industry partners and customers worldwide, Tyndall generates around €30M income each year, 85% from competitively won contracts nationally and internationally. Tyndall is also a lead partner in European research partnerships in its core areas of ICT, communications, energy, health and the environment worth €44M, including €6M accruing to industry in Ireland (from Framework 7). Hosting the only full CMOS (metal oxide semiconductor) integrated circuit construction, Micro Electronic Mechanical systems (MEMS) and III-V Wafer Semiconductor fabrication facilities and services in Ireland, Tyndall is capable of prototyping new product opportunities for its target industries – electronics, medical devices, energy and communication. Tyndall is a globally leading Institute in its four core research areas of Photonics, Microsystems, Micro/Nanoelectronics and Theory, Modeling and Design. Tyndall is the lead institution for the Science Foundation Ireland funded Irish Photonics Integration Centre (IPIC).


About Professor Stephen Fahy

Prof. Fahy is head of the Materials Theory Group at Tyndall National Institute and a Professor of Physics at University College Cork. Originally from Cork, Prof. Fahy  studied undergraduate degrees in Mathematical Science and Physics and a Masters degree in Mathematics at UCC. He was awarded a PhD in Physics from the University of California specialising in condensed matter theory. Following two years as a member of technical staff at Bell Laboratories,  Prof. Fahy joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1990 and returned to UCC in 1993.




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