Quantum Leap in Graphite: Attoscience Lights the Way to Superconductivity

by Manuel Costa
Attosecond Soft-X-ray Spectroscopy

The advent of attosecond soft-X-ray pulses has ushered in a significant advancement in the field of material analysis, particularly in the study of light-matter interactions and many-body dynamics. This breakthrough, led by the ICFO team, has revolutionized X-ray absorption spectroscopy, a crucial tool for material analysis.

X-ray absorption spectroscopy is a technique used to analyze the composition of materials by selectively examining their electronic states. Until recently, this method involved laborious wavelength scanning and lacked the ability to provide ultrafast temporal resolution for studying electronic dynamics.

However, over the past decade, the Attoscience and Ultrafast Optics group at ICFO, led by ICREA Prof. Jens Biegert, has transformed attosecond soft-X-ray absorption spectroscopy into a cutting-edge analytical tool. This development eliminates the need for scanning and offers attosecond temporal resolution.

The key breakthrough lies in the generation of attosecond soft-X-ray pulses, with durations as short as 23 to 165 attoseconds and a coherent soft-X-ray bandwidth ranging from 120 to 600 electronvolts. These pulses enable the simultaneous examination of an entire material’s electronic structure. This capability provides a new and powerful tool for investigating solid-state physics and chemistry.

One remarkable application of this technology is the manipulation of graphite’s conductivity through light-matter interaction. By subjecting graphite to intense ultrashort mid-infrared laser pulses, researchers induce a highly conductive light-matter hybrid phase. This state emerges as optically excited electrons strongly couple with coherent optical phonons.

The study conducted by ICFO researchers Themis Sidiropoulos, Nicola Di Palo, Adam Summers, Stefano Severino, Maurizio Reduzzi, and Jens Biegert demonstrates the ability to control and increase graphite’s conductivity through the manipulation of its many-body state. They achieve this using carrier-envelope-phase-stable sub-2-cycle optical pulses and attosecond soft-X-ray pulses, which probe the material’s electronic structure at attosecond intervals.

This research holds significant implications for the field of material science, offering the potential to alter a material’s quantum state with light. It addresses fundamental questions in contemporary physics, such as understanding quantum phase transitions and the emergence of material properties from microscopic interactions.

Moreover, the study’s results have promising applications in photonic integrated circuits and optical computing, where light can be used to manipulate electrons and control material properties. Overall, this breakthrough in attosecond soft-X-ray spectroscopy opens new avenues for exploring and manipulating correlated phases of matter in real-time, which is essential for modern technologies.


  • “Enhanced optical conductivity and many-body effects in strongly-driven photo-excited semi-metallic graphite” by T. P. H. Sidiropoulos, N. Di Palo, D. E. Rivas, A. Summers, S. Severino, M. Reduzzi and J. Biegert, Nature Communications, 16 November 2023, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-43191-5

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Attosecond Soft-X-ray Spectroscopy

What is attosecond soft-X-ray spectroscopy?

Attosecond soft-X-ray spectroscopy is an advanced analytical technique used to study the electronic structure of materials with unprecedented precision and speed. It involves the generation of extremely short X-ray pulses, measured in attoseconds (10^-18 seconds), which can probe the electronic dynamics of materials at an atomic level.

How does attosecond soft-X-ray spectroscopy differ from traditional X-ray absorption spectroscopy?

Traditional X-ray absorption spectroscopy required wavelength scanning and lacked ultrafast temporal resolution. Attosecond soft-X-ray spectroscopy, on the other hand, eliminates the need for scanning and offers attosecond-level temporal resolution, enabling researchers to study electronic dynamics in real-time.

What are the potential applications of this technology?

One of the notable applications is the manipulation of a material’s conductivity through light-matter interaction, as demonstrated with graphite in the discussed study. This technology also has implications for photonic integrated circuits and optical computing, where light can be used to control and manipulate material properties.

Why is the ability to manipulate a material’s quantum state with light significant?

This capability is crucial for understanding fundamental processes in contemporary physics, such as quantum phase transitions and the emergence of material properties from microscopic interactions. It offers new ways to investigate and manipulate correlated phases of matter in real-time, which has important implications for modern technologies.

What are the key findings of the ICFO research mentioned in the text?

ICFO researchers observed a light-induced increase and control of conductivity in graphite by manipulating its many-body state. They used attosecond soft-X-ray pulses to probe the material’s electronic structure and revealed the signatures of a superconductivity phase, opening up new avenues for research in material science and technology.

More about Attosecond Soft-X-ray Spectroscopy

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ScienceGeek December 28, 2023 - 7:31 am

attosecond spectroscopy = mind-blowing! _xD83E__xDD2F_ Gives us a whole new way to see what’s going on in there!_xD83D__xDD0D_

Reader123 December 28, 2023 - 8:22 am

Wow, this stuff about atoms and X-rays is super cool! I never knew they could look inside materials in such tiny times._xD83D__xDD2C_

CuriousCat December 28, 2023 - 8:32 am

I’m excited about those photonic circuits! Light + electronics = future tech! _xD83C__xDF1F_

ResearchJunkie December 29, 2023 - 4:42 am

Understanding quantum states in materials is the future of tech. This research rocks! _xD83D__xDE80_

TechNerd77 December 29, 2023 - 5:32 am

Wait, so they shoot X-rays at stuff, and it changes the way it behaves? Mind = blown! _xD83D__xDCA5_


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