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Institute of Optics


Atomic Electron Wave Packet Interference and Control


Michael W. Noel

We have used a train of picosecond laser pulses to excite an atomic electron into a coherent superposition of radially localized wave packets. Such superpositions were used in three separate experiments to study interference and control of atomic electron wave packets.

The first experiment is an analog of Young’s double-slit interferometer using an atomic electron instead of light. The superposition for this experiment consists of two wave packets coherently excited on opposite sides of a common Kepler orbit, which mimic the pair of slits used in Young’s experiment. The two wave packets propagate and spread until they completely overlap, then a third laser pulse probes the resulting fringe pattern. The relative phase of the two wave packet can be varied so that the interference produces a single localized electron wave packet on one side of the orbit or the other.

In the second experiment we study the same superposition of two separated wave packets, but this time in an analogy to Schrödinger’s coherent superposition of live and dead cat. State selective field ionization is used to verify that only every other atomic level is populated in the cat state, and a Ramsey fringe measurement is used to demonstrate the coherence of the superposition.

In the third experiment we have made use of the interference studied in the first two in an effort to control the radial distribution of the electron. This is done by controlling the quantum state distribution that is excited with a train of laser pulses. We have developed this control theory for the weak field case to show the simple and unique solutions that result. We have also demonstrated this type of control by showing how the state distribution can be modified for the simple case of a train of three pulses.

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Last modified 13 September 2006