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Unraveling ultra-fast photo-induced phenomena at the nanoscale: a joint theoretical and experimental approach

It is thanks to two chemists, Norrish and Porter, that ultrashort light flashes were first used to excite photochemical reactions and to probe them spectroscopically. This achievement has been recognized by the 1976 Nobel prize in Chemistry. Since then laser technology has grown explosively until reaching in recent years laser durations of few attoseconds and power flux densities larger than 1000 petawatts/cm2. This led to the opening of the new era of femtosecond (fs) nanoscale physics, where combined non-linear and non-adiabatic phenomena occur and where it is possible to monitor real-time the dynamics of photo-induced electronic excitations with unprecedented precision. Ultrafast science at the nano-scale is clearing the path for nanostructure devices with efficient light emission spectra, high optical gain and controllable atomic deformations, thus paving the way to strategic applications in chemistry, biophysics and medicine.
The design of nano-scale devices is, however, inevitably linked to a detailed knowledge of the structural and dynamical properties of these systems. Despite the massive number of available experimental results there are still scarce numerical and theoretical methods in use of the scientific community. The fast development of new characterization techniques and the production of stable nanoscale materials have not been followed by a similar evolution of the theoretical tools. Nanostructures and biological systems are formed by hundreds/thousands of atoms and their peculiar properties are related to their reduced dimensionality and extended surface. Any reliable theory is inevitably linked to a detailed knowledge of their structural and dynamical properties. Due to the complexity of these systems, however, state-of-the art methods are confined to rather simple models with empirical parameters. In this way the theory is deprived of its predictive aspiration, and of the possibility of inspiring new experiments and practical applications. This situation is unavoidably creating a gap between theory and experiment.
The overall objective of the FLash-it project is to close this gap by developing ground-breaking theoretical and numerical approaches, relying on the accuracy of ab-initio methods, coupled to cutting-edge experiments. The achievement of this ambitious objective is obtained by means of the coordinated action of different research groups with interdisciplinary competences, including non-equilibrium theoretical methodologies, ultrafast spectroscopy, synthetic chemistry, computational material science and code development. Our network is, thus, composed by multi-institutional research groups with a documented international reputation and different expertise. Moreover, it benefits from national and international collaborations with groups worldwide, leader in surface science, chemical synthesis and high performance computing.

Funding

The present project has been accepted for a three years funding within the Fondo per gli Investimenti della Ricerca di Base(FIRB) project.