A twist on the double-slit experiment

This is a sweet twist on the classic double-slit experiment. Instead of two physical slits that you shine light through, send a really short laser pulse through a gas and and let the electric field of the light pulse act the double slit.

Paulus and co-workers focused a train of pulses from a Ti:sapphire laser into a chamber containing a gas of argon atoms. The pulses were so short - just 5 femtoseconds - that each one contained just a few cycles of the electric field.

The team was able to control the output of the laser so that all the pulses were identical. The researchers could, for example, ensure that each pulse contained two maxima of the electric field (thatis, two peaks with large positive values) and one minimum (a peak with a large negative value). There was a small probability that an atom would be ionized by one or other of the maxima, which therefore played the role of the slits, with the resulting electron being accelerated towards a detector. If the atom was ionized by the minimum, the electron travelled in the opposite direction towards a second detector.

The team registered the arrival times of the electrons at both detectors and then plotted the number of electrons as a function of energy. The researchers observed interference fringes at the first detector because it was impossible to know if an electron counted by the detector was produced during the first or second maximum.

Clever, very clever indeed

Found at Slashdot.