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Figure 1. Clusters are weakly bonded assemblages of atoms or molecules . . .Click to Enlarge Image

One of the enduring mysteries of chemistry is exactly what happens during the few femtoseconds it takes for a chemical reaction to transpire. We see what goes in and what comes out, but the in between happens so fast it has proved devilishly hard to study. One promising area of investigation involves the use of clusters—tiny atomic or molecular assemblages with weak bonding. Clusters can be rapidly ionized using laser pulses of very short duration, producing like charges of sufficient intensity and closeness to cause explosive repulsion, called Coulomb explosion. By carefully adjusting the delivery interval between femtosecond-duration laser pulses to clusters, the authors have begun to reveal the secrets of reaction dynamics.

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