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The College of Arts Sciences

Making Molecular Movies

By: Alexandra Chang,  Cornell Research
October 17, 2016

The lab of Poul B. Petersen, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, is a finely controlled space, designed to maintain consistent temperature and humidity. “It’s the best air-conditioned room on campus,” says Petersen, as he points to a walled-off room within a room. That’s because the room houses the latest infrared (IR) laser technologies and hundreds of pieces of optics equipment—lenses, mirrors, cameras, photo detectors—all mounted to a two-ton floating metal optics table. Any environmental disturbance would throw off the lasers and the measurements they take.

Specifically, Petersen’s goal is to capture ultrafast molecular processes using new techniques that his lab develops. Many molecular processes happen on the femtosecond timescale. As a point of reference, as many femtoseconds occur in a single second as do seconds in 32 million years. Simply put, these processes happen incredibly fast.

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Poul B. Petersen