Coherent Phonons in Antimony: an Undergraduate Physical Chemistry Solid-State Ultrafast Laser Spectroscopy Experiment
Ultrafast laser pump-probe spectroscopy is an important and growing field of physical chemistry that allows the measurement of chemical dynamics on their natural timescales, but undergraduate laboratory courses lack examples of such spectroscopy and the interpretation of the dynamics that occur. Here we develop and implement an ultrafast pump-probe spectroscopy experiment for the undergraduate physical chemistry laboratory course at the University of California Berkeley. The goal of the experiment is to expose students to concepts in solid-state chemistry and ultrafast spectroscopy via classic coherent phonon dynamics principles developed by researchers over multiple decades. The experiment utilizes a modern high-repetition rate 800 nm femtosecond Ti:Sapphire laser, split pulses with a variable time delay, and sensitive detection of transient reflectivity signals. The experiment involves minimal intervention from students and is therefore easy and safe to implement in the laboratory. Students first perform an intensity autocorrelation measurement on the femtosecond laser pulses to obtain their temporal duration. Then, students measure the pump-probe reflectivity of a single-crystal antimony sample to determine the period of coherent phonon oscillations initiated by an ultrafast pulse excitation, which is analyzed by fitting to a sine wave. Due to the disruption of in-person instruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, during those semesters students were provided the data they would have obtained during the experiment to analyze at home. Evaluation of student written reports reveals that the learning goals were met, and that students gained an appreciation for the field of ultrafast laser-induced chemistry.