National Research Council of Canada. NRC Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences
It is well established that electrons can escape from atoms through tunneling under the influence of strong laser fields, but the timing of the process has been controversial and far too rapid to probe in detail. We used attosecond angular streaking to place an upper limit of 34 attoseconds and an intensity-averaged upper limit of 12 attoseconds on the tunneling delay time in strong field ionization of a helium atom. The ionization field derives from 5.5-femtosecond-long near-infrared laser pulses with peak intensities ranging from 2.3 × 1014 to 3.5 × 1014 watts per square centimeter (corresponding to a Keldysh parameter variation from 1.45 to 1.17, associated with the onset of efficient tunneling). The technique relies on establishing an absolute reference point in the laboratory frame by elliptical polarization of the laser pulse, from which field-induced momentum shifts of the emergent electron can be assigned to a temporal delay on the basis of the known oscillation of the field vector.
American Association for the Advancement of Science