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Femtosecond few- to single-electron point-projection microscopy for nanoscale dynamic imaging
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Femtosecond electron microscopy produces real-space images of matter in a series of ultrafast snapshots. Pulses of electrons self-disperse under space-charge broadening, so without compression, the ideal operation mode is a single electron per pulse. Here, we demonstrate femtosecond single-electron point projection microscopy (fs-ePPM) in a laser-pump fs-e-probe configuration. The electrons have an energy of only 150 eV and take tens of picoseconds to propagate to the object under study. Nonetheless, we achieve a temporal resolution with a standard deviation of 114 fs (equivalent to a full-width at half-maximum of 269 ± 40 fs) combined with a spatial resolution of 100 nm, applied to a localized region of charge at the apex of a nanoscale metal tip induced by 30 fs 800 nm laser pulses at 50 kHz. These observations demonstrate real-space imaging of reversible processes, such as tracking charge distributions, is feasible whilst maintaining femtosecond resolution. Our findings could find application as a characterization method, which, depending on geometry, could resolve tens of femtoseconds and tens of nanometres. Dynamically imaging electric and magnetic fields and charge distributions on sub-micron length scales opens new avenues of ultrafast dynamics. Furthermore, through the use of active compression, such pulses are an ideal seed for few-femtosecond to attosecond imaging applications which will access sub-optical cycle processes in nanoplasmonics.
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