Ultrafast Bond Softening in Bismuth: Mapping a Solid's Interatomic Potential with X-rays

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Abstract

Intense femtosecond laser excitation can produce transient states of matter that would otherwise be inaccessible to laboratory investigation. At high excitation densities, the interatomic forces that bind solids and determine many of their properties can be substantially altered. Here, we present the detailed mapping of the carrier density-dependent interatomic potential of bismuth approaching a solid-solid phase transition. Our experiments combine stroboscopic techniques that use a high-brightness linear electron accelerator-based x-ray source with pulse-by-pulse timing reconstruction for femtosecond resolution, allowing quantitative characterization of the interatomic potential energy surface of the highly excited solid.

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