Spinning on Target

Prof. Ilya Averbukh

Quick laser pulses are the key to turning molecules into tiny “Frisbees” aimed at a target

Like seasoned Frisbee players, Prof. Ilya Averbukh and his students in the Weizmann Institute’s Faculty of Chemistry develop methods to spin molecules at exactly the right angle to fly them – through electric or magnetic fields, or laser beams – directly to a target. It may sound like a game, but this scientific achievement could lead to a number of new applications in such fields as nanotechnology, optics and chemistry, as well as advancing the development of cutting-edge systems for scientific research.
Propelling a charged particle such as an electron is child’s play. But atoms and molecules have no net charge and, therefore, will not move inside a uniform electric field. Scientists have gotten atoms moving by placing them in a non-uniform field, such that a stronger force on one side shifts a polarized atom in a specific direction. But molecules tend to have more complex shapes, so their alignment within the field also comes into play when determining how they will respond to an external field. In his theoretical work, Averbukh applied the “Frisbee” principle to moving a molecule along a precise trajectory: Spin it rapidly as though it were a disk and control the tilt.
This molecular Frisbee is created by hitting molecules with short, precisely timed laser pulses. When these molecules are put into a field, one can keep them on path by adjusting the polarization of the laser pulses.
Researchers experimenting in nanotechnology are now exploring the prospects of this method for focusing beams of spinning molecules on precise targets.
Prof. Ilya Averbukh is the incumbent of the Patricia Elman Bildner Professorial Chair of Solid State Chemistry.

Systems | Molly Surno. Still from a video, print on anodized aluminum, 30x40, 2011

If it moves like a planet, rotates like a planet and looks like a planet, is it, indeed, a planet? Molly Surno is not sure.

If it appears as a digital file, can it be a “physical object”? Surno is not sure about this, either. In the process of exploring this question, she projects old astronomy and educational films on a wall onto which she has stretched sheets of transparent plastic, creating internal light reflections in the background. These projections are filmed and printed as single frames on aluminum, giving them mass and materiality.

Molly Surno, b. Los Angeles, 1982, lives and works in New York. A video and multimedia artist and curator, her works have been shown in alternative art venues around the US, and she has curated video art projects for the Metropolitan Museum in New York, MoMA PS1 and the Kitchen.