Researchers Create ‘Ghost’ Chemical Bond

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Researchers from Purdue University suggested that electromagnetic pulses applied to an atom could cause one of its electrons to imaginarily bond to an empty point in space

A chemical bond requires a minimum of two consenting atoms. However, a proposed experiment by Purdue University might reduce that requirement to just one atom. The proposed trilobite bond is formed by carefully manipulating a Rydberg atom, an atom with one electron in a highly excited state. Trilobite bonds are usually observed in special types of diatomic molecules that are characterized by one of the atoms in a Rydberg state and the other in its ground state. These trilobite molecules are unusually large (around 1000 times larger than typical diatomic molecules) as the Rydberg’s pumped-up outer electron occupies a very distant orbital.

The researchers through numerical analyses showed that the electronic wave function of a Rydberg hydrogen atom can be sculpted to match that of a trilobite molecule by a precise sequence of alternating electric and magnetic field pulses. This results in localization of the excited electron to a point in space, which is dozens of nanometers from the nucleus. The wave function remains for at least 200 μs that temporarily bonds the Rydberg atom to a nonexistent ‘ghost’ atom.

The researchers stated that further experimentalists are required to find a way to accommodate the stringent requirements for synchronizing the pulses and blocking external fields. The system could be observed via electron- or x-ray-scattering experiments when these drawbacks are reduced and a ghost bond is produced. Although the applications of this findings are abstract, the researchers suggested that such a preformed bond would modify chemical reaction rates in some way. The research was published in the journal Physical Review Letters on September 12, 2018.

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