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Femtosecond electron diffraction: heralding the era of atomically resolved dynamics

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Sciaini, G., & Miller, R. J. D. (2011). Femtosecond electron diffraction: heralding the era of atomically resolved dynamics. Reports on Progress in Physics, 74(9): 096101. doi:10.1088/0034-4885/74/9/096101.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0028-1FAF-2
One of the great dream experiments in Science is to directly observe atomic motions as they occur. Femtosecond electron diffraction provided the first 'light' of sufficient intensity to achieve this goal by attaining atomic resolution to structural changes on the relevant timescales. This review covers the technical progress that made this new level of acuity possible and gives a survey of the new insights gained from an atomic level perspective of structural dynamics. Atomic level views of the simplest possible structural transition, melting, are discussed for a number of systems in which both thermal and purely electronically driven atomic displacements can be correlated with the degree of directional bonding. Optical manipulation of charge distributions and effects on interatomic forces/bonding can be directly observed through the ensuing atomic motions. New phenomena involving strongly correlated electron–lattice systems are also discussed in which optically induced changes in the potential energy landscape lead to ballistic structural changes. Concepts such as the structural order parameters are now directly observable at the atomic level of inspection to give a remarkable view of the extraordinary degree of cooperativity involved in strongly correlated electron–lattice systems. These recent examples, in combination with time-resolved real space imaging now possible with electron probes, are truly defining an emerging field that holds great promise to make a significant impact in how we understand structural dynamics. This article is dedicated to the memory of Professor David John Hugh Cockayne, a world leader in electron microscopy, who sadly passed away in December.