Margaret M. Murnane

University of Colorado Boulder


Election Year: 2004
Primary Section: 13, Physics
Secondary Section: 33, Applied Physical Sciences
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

The thrust of our research group is in optical science and technology. We develop new coherent, femtosecond laser and x-ray sources for use in many applications in physics, chemistry, materials science and engineering. Much of our effort involves generating and using "laser-like" beams at wavelengths 10-1000 times shorter than visible light, in the extreme ultraviolet and soft-x-ray regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. These wavelengths are well matched to the primary atomic resonances of most elements, making possible many element- and chemically- specific spectroscopies and spectromicroscopies, ultrafast spectroscopies, as well as nano-imaging.

We are also pursuing research that is now a major theme in atomic and molecular science: given that we understand the basics of how atoms and molecules work, can we manipulate and control them in useful ways? Since atoms and molecules interact with their environment entirely by means of electromagnetic fields, the preceding question can be formulated more specifically as follows: is it possible to "design" a pulse of light that, when incident on an atom or molecule, can precisely control its evolution in any desired way? During the past decade, as laser technology has progressed to the point where light pulses can be manipulated on a cycle-by-cycle basis, this topic of "coherent control" of atoms and molecules has drawn increasing interest. In recent work, we have taken this concept to the extreme. By manipulating a light pulse on the fastest possible time-scale relevant to atomic and molecular processes-that corresponding to less than a single undulation of the electromagnetic field of the light that interacts with an atom-we have manipulated atomic and molecular quantum wave functions for useful outcomes. For example, by optimizing the wavefunction of an ionizing electron on angstrom scalelengths and on attosecond timescales, we can selectively optimize coherent x-ray generation.

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