Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Physics

First Advisor

Henry C. Kapteyn

Second Advisor

David M. Jonas

Third Advisor

Margaret M. Murnane

Fourth Advisor

Carl W. Lineberger

Fifth Advisor

Agnieszka A. Jaron-Becker

Abstract

Modern femtosecond lasers can produce pulses of light that are shorter than the vibrational periods in molecules and have electric fields stronger than the Coulomb field that binds electrons in atoms. These short pulse lasers enable the observation of chemical reactions, the production of attosecond bursts of high-energy photons, and the precision-machining of solid materials with minimal heat transport to the material. In this thesis, I describe three experiments that provide new insight into strong-field (~1014 Watts/cm2) femtosecond laser-matter interactions in three important regimes. First, I discuss the strong-field ionization of gas-phase atoms, identify a new structure in the photoelectron angular distribution of xenon gas, and explain this structure as a result of field-driven electrons colliding with the Coulomb potential of the ion. Second, I describe a new method to perform photoelectron and photoion spectroscopy on single, isolated nanoparticles and demonstrate this technique by observing the directional ion ejection that takes place in the laser ablation of nanostructures. Finally, I present the first experimental observations of shock wave propagation in nanoscale plasmas. These findings will guide future efforts to probe the structure of atoms and molecules on the femtosecond timescale, design nanomaterials that enhance light on the subwavelength scale, and produce high-energy ions from plasmas.

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