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THOMAS PFEIFER is interested in the origins of motion: how, on an atomic level, motion is coming into play and how this motion that is initially described by the laws of quantum mechanics then transfers into the classical motion we can see. For this, researchers employ a combination of spectroscopy and laser methods. The specific research question presented in this video investigates how a very fundamental system, such as an atom with just one or two electrons, interacts with an intense pulse of laser light on a very short time scale. Exposing the helium atom in their experiments to very short pulses of laser light, the researchers gained an understanding of the way how two, or more electrons – even in larger molecules – are moving and how they can control the motion of these electrons. This observation offers new opportunities to understand quantum motion, and eventually laser control chemical reactions.


Thomas Pfeifer is Director of the Division ‘Quantum Dynamics and Control’ at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics. Previously, he was Research Group Leader at the same Max Planck Institute and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley. His research interests are currently focused on fundamental quantum dynamics and control, including time-resolved dynamics in atoms and molecules as well as free-electron laser physics and technology. In 2013, he received the Heinz-Maier-Leibnitz Award from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG).


Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics

The Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik (MPIK) is one out of 86 institutes and research establishments of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften (MPG) (Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science). The MPG was founded in 1948 as successor to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (established in 1911) and is committed to basic research. The MPIK was founded in 1958 under the leadership of Wolfgang Gentner. Its precursor was the Institute for Physics at the MPI for Medical Research led by Walther Bothe from 1934 to 1957. Since 1966 the MPIK is led by a board of directors. The initial scientific goals were basic research in nuclear physics and the application of nuclear-physics methods to questions concerning in the physics and chemistry of the cosmos. Today, the activities concentrate on the two interdisciplinary research fields: Astroparticle Physics and Quantum Dynamics.

Presently, the institute consists of five divisions and additionally several independent research groups mostly led by young physicists. Every day, about 400 persons are working at the Institute, including around 130 scientists and 110 PhD students. Scientists at the MPIK collaborate with other research groups from all over the world. They are involved in a large number of international collaborations, partly in a leading role. Particularly close connections exist to some large-scale facilities like  GSI (Darmstadt), DESY (Hamburg), CERN (Genf), INFN-LNGS (Assergi L‘Aquila), LCLS (Stanford). In the local region, the Institute cooperates closely with Heidelberg University, where the directors and further members of the Institute are teaching. Three International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS) and a graduate school serve to foster young scientists.

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Original publication

Lorentz Meets Fano in Spectral Line Shapes: A Universal Phase and its Laser Control

Ott Christian, Kaldun Andreas, Raith Philipp, Meyer Kristina, Laux Martin, Evers Jörg, Keitel Christoph H., Greene Chris H. and Pfeifer Thomas
Published in 2013