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Stored and Cooled Ions Division
Max Planck SocietyMax Planck Institute for Nuclear PhysicsUniversity of Heidelberg Stored and Cooled Ions Division
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Fax: +49 6221 516-852
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Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics
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Atomic and molecular quantum dynamics


Our experimental work focuses on the quantum dynamics of simple ionic systems ranging from atoms to cold molecules and clusters. This research has direct impact on the field of quantum chemistry and on basic few-body quantum physics regarding the dynamics of systems including several particles in highly excited or strongly correlated motion. The results contribute important experimental benchmarks for molecular reactions in the cold interstellar medium as well as for atomic processes in hot, highly ionized astrophysical surroundings, for basic atomic and molecular theory, chemical physics involving ions, and fundamental physics such as quantum electrodynamics. The research is performed with the ion storage ring TSR, in operation until end of 2012, the cryogenic ion storage ring CSR nearing completion, cryogenic radiofrequency ion traps and ultracold electron beams and covers a broad scope of atomic and molecular processes.


Dissociative electron-molecule recombination and related processes

Dissociative recombination is an important reaction of ionic molecular compounds with free electrons, which has no energetic barrier and works also at the lowest temperatures. It leads to the destruction and chemical conversion of the molecules and produces further chemically active radicals as fragments. Predicting the rates and the product channels for these reactions requires detailed knowledge of inner-molecular dynamics actively studied worldwide both experimentally and theoretically.

In our experiments we combine translationally and vibrationally cold molecular ion beams at the ion storage rings TSR and CSR with continuously improved techniques of event-by-event fragment imaging, suitable even for neutral products and for multi-coincidence events from polyatomic systems, in order to reveal the inner mechanisms of molecular dissociation. Stored ion beams offer the unique opportunity to thermalize the internal molecular degrees of freedom (vibration and, partly, rotation) with the surrounding storage environment, defined by the blackbody field in the vacuum enclosure as well as by the electron beams interacting with the stored ions. New ultracold electron beams from cryogenic photocathode sources are applied for electron collision studies with record-high impact energy resolution. Recent studies aim in particular at polyatomic molecular ions important in ion chemistry, as in astrophysical and atmospherical processes, and the understanding of the basic mechanisms.


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Cold radiofrequency ion traps and laser spectroscopy

Molecular ions with low internal temperatures are produced and investigated in a cryogenic radiofrequency ion trap suitable for buffer gas cooling of the ions down to about 10 K. This trapping technique was implemented at the TSR to inject pre-cooled molecular ions, in particular H3+, a main species driving chemical reactions in cold dilute media, notably in astrophysics; the project triggered the development of cold ion injectors at various ion storage devices worldwide. It is used to study at the TSR the dissociative recombination of H3+ in the lowest quantum level of the ortho and para nuclear spin variants of H3+, respectively. Moreover, highly sensitive ro-vibrational laser spectroscopy of H3+ is performed in the ion trap itself. With the new methods, precise H3+ laser spectroscopy could be performed under dilute, ion trap conditions. Techniques even extending to ion beam environments are in development.


Coulomb explosion imaging of small molecular ions - the negative hydrogen ions

Coulomb explosion of molecular ions with energies around 1 MeV, either from the TSR or directly from the accelerators of the institute, can be initiated by passing them through very thin foils where they lose their binding electrons on a sub-femtosecond time scale. The event-by-event imaging of the fragmentation products under these conditions takes snapshots of the molecular vibrational motion and allows important parameters, such as the binding length and the vibrational force constants reflecting the molecular potentials, to be determined. Experiments were also performed on the negative hydrogen molecules (in particular H2-), which are transient species living shorter than a millisecond and become relatively stable only if they strongly rotate around their axis. In recent studies the sense of cirality of a partially deuterated epoxide sample could be determined directly by this molecular imaging method.


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Spontaneous and laser-induced fragmentation of highly excited molecular and cluster ions

In a plasma, the internal degrees of freedom (rotational, vibrational or electronic) of molecular and cluster ions are often highly excited by collisons with other particles. The fastest channels for relaxation of these states are the emission of an electron or an atomic fragment. For bulk matter these processes are known as thermionic electron emission and evaporation. A particularly important aspect of these processes is the energetic coupling of electronic and vibrational energy in these complex systems, having a large number of oscillation modes very high densities of excited vibrational levels. To achieve high sensititvity and a low radiation background in these collision studies, beams of small molecular and cluster ions are stored at high velocity in cryogenic storage devices. In pilot studies for the development of the cryogenic storage ring (CSR), the Cryogenic Trap for Fast ion beams (CTF) has been developed and used for such experiments. The decay of complex negative ions such as Al4- and SF6- was examined with particle counting and imaging detectors.
Read more on the pages of the CSR and the CTF.


Dielectronic recombination and electron impact ionization of astrophysically relevant ions

Resonant -  dielectronic  - recombination is the most important recombination mechanism of highly charged ions in hot, dilute plasma. In particular for photoionized plasma in astrophysical environment close to strong radiation sources, large arrays of dielectronic resonances define the recombination rates relevant for understanding the abundance of charge states. This is similarly true for highly charged ions in hot terrestrial plasmas - such as in fusion reactors. Important systems studied are highly charged systems of iron (such as Fe7+ to Fe17+) and tungsten (W20+). Predicting recombination and also electron impact ionization rates for these multielectron systems requires a wide range of approximations in order to become tractable within the present capabilities of theoretical physics. The predictions used in astrophysical models are submitted to stringent benchmark tests by measurements in the TSR with highly charged ion beams and ultracold electron beams.


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High-resolution dielectronic recombination studies for fundamental atomic structure physics

Excitation energies of highly charged ions, measured with high precision, reflect the rich dynamics of virtual particle pairs in strong Coulomb fields, described by quantum electrodynamics. Here, these quantum-electrodynamical interactions are particularly studied in systems composed themselves of several charged particles already. The relevant energy levels of the highly charged ions become accessible through their resonant - "dielectronic" - recombination with electrons, investigated with ion beams stored in the TSR and interacting with the ultracold electron beam available there.


Lifetime measurements of metastable levels in stored atomic ions

Most atoms, even in their high charge states, can exist in states which remain highly excited for extended periods of time, up to milliseconds or seconds, because their internal symmetry prevents their decay which normally would occur in much smaller fractions of a second by the emission of electromagnetic radiation. Such metastable excited ions in high charge states are stored in the TSR and their decay periods on the millisecond to second time scale are monitored and precisely measured. Read more … >