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Chemphyschem. 2003 Apr 14;4(5):418-38.

Quantum control of gas-phase and liquid-phase femtochemistry.

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Physikalisches Institut, Universität Würzburg Am Hubland, 97074 Würzburg, Germany.


Active control of chemical reactions on a microscopic (molecular) level, that is, the selective breaking or making of chemical bonds, is an old dream. However, conventional control agents used in chemical synthesis are macroscopic variables such as temperature, pressure or concentration, which gives no direct access to the quantum-mechanical reaction pathway. In quantum control, by contrast, molecular dynamics are guided with specifically designed light fields. Thus it is possible to efficiently and selectively reach user-defined reaction channels. In the last years, experimental techniques were developed by which many breakthroughs in this field were achieved. Femtosecond laser pulses are manipulated in so-called pulse shapers to generate electric field profiles which are specifically adapted to a given quantum system and control objective. The search for optimal fields is guided by an automated learning loop, which employs direct feedback from experimental output. Thereby quantum control over gas-phase as well as liquid-phase femtochemical processes has become possible. In this review, we first discuss the theoretical and experimental background for many of the recent experiments treated in the literature. Examples from our own research are then used to illustrate several fundamental and practical aspects in gas-phase as well as liquid-phase quantum control. Some additional technological applications and developments are also described, such as the automated optimization of the output from commercial femtosecond laser systems, or the control over the polarization state of light on an ultrashort timescale. The increasing number of successful implementations of adaptive learning techniques points at the great versatility of computer-guided optimization methods. The general approach to active control of light-matter interaction has also applications in many other areas of modern physics and related disciplines.


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