The outcomes and timescales of molecular nonadiabatic dynamics are decisively impacted by the quantum coherences generated at localized molecular regions. In time-resolved X-ray diffraction imaging, these coherences create distinct signatures via inelastic photon scattering, but they are buried under much stronger background elastic features. Here, we exploit the rich dynamical information encoded in the inelastic patterns, which we reveal by frequency-dispersed covariance ultrafast powder X-ray diffraction of stochastic X-ray free-electron laser pulses. This is demonstrated for the photoisomerization of azobenzene involving the passage through a conical intersection, where the nuclear wave packet branches and explores different quantum pathways. Snapshots of the coherence dynamics are obtained at high frequency shifts, not accessible with conventional diffraction measurements. These provide access to the timing and to the confined spatial distribution of the valence electrons directly involved in the conical intersection passage. This study can be extended to full three-dimensional imaging of conical intersections with ultrafast X-ray and electron diffraction.
Ultrafast electron diffraction and time-resolved serial crystallography are the basis of the ongoing revolution in capturing at the atomic level of detail the structural dynamics of molecules. However, most experiments capture only the probability density of the nuclear wavepackets to determine the time-dependent molecular structures, while the full quantum state has not been accessed. Here, we introduce a framework for the preparation and ultrafast coherent diffraction from rotational wave packets of molecules, and we establish a new variant of quantum state tomography for ultrafast electron diffraction to characterize the molecular quantum states. The ability to reconstruct the density matrix, which encodes the amplitude and phase of the wavepacket, for molecules of arbitrary degrees of freedom, will enable the reconstruction of a quantum molecular movie from experimental x-ray or electron diffraction data.
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- Journal Name:
- Nature Communications
- Nature Publishing Group
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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Unveiling the spatial distribution of molecular coherences at conical intersections by covariance X-ray diffraction signals
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