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The research group of Julia Stähler (Fritz Haber Institute and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) has found out that semiconductors can be converted to metals and back more easily and more quickly than previously thought. This discovery may increase the processing speed and simplify the design of many common technological devices.

Band bending at semiconductor surfaces induced by chemical doping or electric fields can create metallic surfaces with properties not found in the bulk, such as high electron mobility, magnetism or superconductivity. Optical generation of such metallic surfaces on ultrafast timescales would be appealing for high-speed electronics. It was demonstrated that the ultrafast generation of a metal at the (10-10) surface of ZnO upon photoexcitation. Compared to hitherto known ultrafast photoinduced semiconductor-to-metal transitions that occur in the bulk of inorganic semiconductors, the metallization of the ZnO surface is launched by 3–4 orders of magnitude lower photon fluxes. Using time- and angle-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy, it was shown that the phase transition is caused by photoinduced downward surface band bending due to photodepletion of donor-type deep surface defects. The discovered mechanism is in analogy to chemical doping of semiconductor surfaces and presents a general route for controlling surface-confined metallicity on ultrafast timescales.

See press release here.

Here’s a video summary and the full paper!

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Characterization of the electronic band structure of solid state materials is routinely performed using photoemission spectroscopy. Recent advancements in short-wavelength light sources and electron detectors give rise to multidimensional photoemission spectroscopy, allowing parallel measurements of the electron spectral function simultaneously in energy, two momentum components and additional physical parameters with single-event detection capability. Efficient processing of the photoelectron event streams at a rate of up to tens of megabytes per second will enable rapid band mapping for materials characterization. We describe an open-source workflow that allows user interaction with billion-count single-electron events in photoemission band mapping experiments, compatible with beamlines at 3rd and 4rd generation light sources and table-top laser-based setups. The workflow offers an end-to-end recipe from distributed operations on single-event data to structured formats for downstream scientific tasks and storage to materials science database integration. Both the workflow and processed data can be archived for reuse, providing the infrastructure for documenting the provenance and lineage of photoemission data for future high-throughput experiments.

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Researchers from the Physical Chemistry Department at the Fritz Haber Institute have together with other European research institutions and companies formed the research consortium OPTOlogic. It aims to develop optical topological computing as a means to reduce energy consumption of electronic circuits. The EU funds the project with almost 4 Million Euros.

About 10% of the world’s electricity production is used to power the information and communication technologies used for data networks, computing centres and personal digital devices. As this area is expected to take an even bigger share in the future, it is important to find ways to keep its energy costs as low as possible. The EU has recently funded the OPTOlogic project that aims to do exactly that: develop a computing architecture that makes these logic operations energy efficient, taking advantage of light-induced and controlled topological properties of materials.

Topology is a mathematical concept for describing the shape of geometrical objects. It has been realized that is extremely useful for describing exotic electronic properties of solids, a finding awarded with the 2016 Nobel Price in Physics. Electrons in topologically protected electronic states of a material can move with minimal loss of energy, which enables the realization of dissipation-free quantum devices. To artificially induce and control topological protected states, the project will use spatially and temporally structured ultrafast pulses of light. These novel quantum devices will use minimal energy to move and store information, while increasing computing power. By increasing the energy efficiency and speed of logical operations, the project could have a significant economic, environmental and social impact.

Coordinated by Prof. Jens Biegert, the OPTOlogic consortium includes researchers at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) near Barcelona, the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Plank Society and the Max Born Institute in Berlin, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) at Saclay, and the company LightOn,  thus uniting world-leading experimental, theoretical, and industrial expertise in condensed matter physics, ultrafast spectroscopy, attoscience, quantum optics and computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The consortium aims at developing a new technological platform that leverages topology to avoid energy loss in electronic transport, light-wave-electronics to overcome limitations imposed by material properties, and quantum materials to realize novel information storage and processing. The project will use the latest technology in ultrafast techniques and attoscience, nanotechnology, and quantum computing to develop this new platform.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s “Horizon 2020” research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 899794.

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Angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES) is the most direct technique to probe the electronic structure of crystalline solids. While ARPES is typically used to map the bands’ dispersion, increasing the dimensionality of the measurements, and thus of the observables, have been shown to provide more subtle information about the electronic wavefunction of solids. In this joint experimental and theoretical work (in collaboration with J. Braun, H. Ebert, K. Hricovini, J. Minar and M. Schüler), we introduce a new observable in ARPES, Time-Reversal Dichroism in Photoelectron Angular Distributions (TRDAD). This novel observable quantifies the modulation of the photoemission intensity upon azimuthal crystal rotation which mimics a time-reversal operation. We demonstrate that this observable allows accessing the hidden orbital pseudospin texture in bulk 2H-WSe2.

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Time-resolved soft-x-ray photoemission spectroscopy is used to simultaneously measure the ultrafast dynamics of core-level spectral functions and excited states upon excitation of excitons in WSe2. We present a many-body approximation for the Green’s function, which excellently describes the transient core-hole spectral function. The relative dynamics of excited-state signal and core levels clearly show a delayed core-hole renormalization due to screening by excited quasifree carriers resulting from an excitonic Mott transition. These findings establish time-resolved core-level photoelectron spectroscopy as a sensitive probe of subtle electronic many-body interactions and ultrafast electronic phase transitions.

A team of researchers around scientists at the Physical Chemistry Department of the Fritz Haber Institute has found a new method of observing the electron-hole-pairs, called excitons, that are key for the function of photovoltaic cells. They managed to film them using the free-electron laser FLASH at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg.

In the world of sustainable energy, solar cells have gained a lot of importance in the last few years. In 2019, 9% of Germany’s net electricity supply came from solar energy. That may seem relatively low, but it’s actually huge compared to ten years ago. Solar energy is one of the fastest growing energy sectors.

One of the reasons for this success story is the large amount of research on the inner workings of photovoltaic cells. Many of the insights in this field initially come from fundamental science as is undertaken at the Physical Chemistry Department of the Fritz Haber Institute. There, a team around Ralph Ernstorfer has just found a way of imaging a key element of all optoelectronic applications: the formation and movement of excitons.

“An exciton describes an electron and the hole it leaves behind when it moves from its original place,” explains Ernstorfer. Excitons are important in the process of producing electricity in solar panels. At the core of a photovoltaic cell, or what is more commonly called a solar panel, is a semiconductor (silicon for example) that on one side has many loose electrons and on the other more atoms with holes. Electricity is generated when a current runs between them, i.e. when the electrons move to fill the holes. But that process would be over in a few seconds without a new supply of electrons and holes. “The sunlight that shines on the photovoltaic cell prompts the creation of new excitons by lifting electrons to a new energy level,” says Ernstorfer, “where they leave a vacancy in their original states. That guarantees a constant supply of electrons and holes, thus enabling an electric current.”

While this principle has been known for decades, physics research has been a little slow in measuring how exactly this happens. An international collaboration of researchers around a team from the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin now conceived a new approach for observing the generation of excitons in real time. “We wanted to know how excitons either broke up or how they formed from independent particles”, says Maciej Dendzik, lead author of the study. Using the free-electron laser FLASH at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg, they emitted light on to a semiconductor (tungsten diselenide – WSe2) and took billions of snapshots of the electrons’ arrangement in the material. “We essentially made a movie of the semiconductor’s electronic structure during and after light absorption,” adds Dendzik excitedly.

Distinguishing of excitons from quasi-free particles is not an easy task. The researchers took an unconventional approach to this problem by monitoring not only the excited states population, but also strongly bound electrons from the atomic core at the same time. The latter turned out to be essential for seeing the exciton breaking dynamics due to subtle changes in interaction strength as this process unfolds. This experiment resulted in development of a novel model describing how core electrons feel the presence of excitons, which paves the way for exciting new research in the field of semiconductor physics and, ultimately, the design of more efficient solar cells.

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Electrochemistry is the chemistry of electrons and charge transfer. For a molecular level understanding one would like to probe the dynamics of electron transfer at the electrochemical interface on all relevant time scale.  While conventional electrochemical characterization methods such as impedance spectroscopy are very useful in sampling “slow” dynamics, they are not fast enough for processes such as interfacial electron transfer or solvent reorganization. In this study a novel optoelectronic technique has been developed combining femtosecond lasers and conventional electrochemical electronics to characterize the birth and ultrafast structural evolution of solvated electrons at the gold/water interface. Transient spectra with a time resolution of 50 fs reveal novel aspects of the properties of solvated electrons at the interface, like trapping in a “hot state” and its subsequent evolution. The technique will enable a better understanding of hot electron-driven reactions at electrochemical interfaces.

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Tip-enhanced Raman scattering (TERS) combined with highly stable scanning tunneling microscopy is a powerful tool to obtain local chemical information at surfaces with exceptional high spatial resolution. Here, we investigate the evolution of TERS at Angstrom-scale distances between tip and surface up to the point where tip apex touches the surface. A stable atomic point contact is reversibly formed in the junction between our plasmonic Ag tip and ultrathin ZnO films on a Ag(111) surface. A dramatic enhancement and abrupt increase of the TERS intensity occurs upon contact formation for ZnO, which attributed to strong hybridization between the Ag tip and ZnO enhancing the Raman polarizability. This is further corroborated by the appearance of a new vibrational mode arising from the atomic contact. In contrast, related control experiments on chemically inert NaCl films show no such enhancement and the absence of the point contact mode.

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The Award Committee of the Japan Society of Vacuum and Surface Science (JVSS) has selected Dr. Takashi Kumagai (Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society, Germany) as the Rising Medalist of The Heinrich Rohrer Medal for the his achievements to combine plasmonic near-field physics with low-temperature scanning tunneling microscopy (STM). The prize will be awarded in a ceremony at the International Symposium on Surface Science(ISSSS-9) in November 2020, Takamatsu, Japan.
The work by Takashi Kumagai combines highly original research on naoscale surface science with the physics of locally enhanced electromagnetic fields in atonically controlled STM junctions. A key development technical development are nano-fabricated plasmonics tips allowing to localize of light down to the atomistic (i.e. Angstrom) length scale. This enabled highly reliable and reproducible experiments and the discovery of a novel processes like plasmon-assisted resonance electron transfer, near-field induced chemical reactions, and the demonstration of tip-enhanced resonance Raman spectroscopy in quantum point contacts.

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The “electron dynamiχ” group leader from the Department of Physical Chemistry was appointed professor by the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin on April 1st, 2020.

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