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Nature. 2015 Jul 30;523(7562):572-5. doi: 10.1038/nature14652.

Real-time observation of interfering crystal electrons in high-harmonic generation.

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Department of Physics, University of Regensburg, 93040 Regensburg, Germany.
Department of Physics, University of Marburg, 35032 Marburg, Germany.


Acceleration and collision of particles has been a key strategy for exploring the texture of matter. Strong light waves can control and recollide electronic wavepackets, generating high-harmonic radiation that encodes the structure and dynamics of atoms and molecules and lays the foundations of attosecond science. The recent discovery of high-harmonic generation in bulk solids combines the idea of ultrafast acceleration with complex condensed matter systems, and provides hope for compact solid-state attosecond sources and electronics at optical frequencies. Yet the underlying quantum motion has not so far been observable in real time. Here we study high-harmonic generation in a bulk solid directly in the time domain, and reveal a new kind of strong-field excitation in the crystal. Unlike established atomic sources, our solid emits high-harmonic radiation as a sequence of subcycle bursts that coincide temporally with the field crests of one polarity of the driving terahertz waveform. We show that these features are characteristic of a non-perturbative quantum interference process that involves electrons from multiple valence bands. These results identify key mechanisms for future solid-state attosecond sources and next-generation light-wave electronics. The new quantum interference process justifies the hope for all-optical band-structure reconstruction and lays the foundation for possible quantum logic operations at optical clock rates.


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