Classic double-slit experiment in a new light

An international research team led by physicists from the University of Cologne has implemented a new variant of the basic double-slit experiment using resonant inelastic X-ray scattering at the European Synchrotron ESRF in Grenoble. This new variant offers a deeper understanding of the electronic structure of solids. Writing in Science Advances, the research group have now presented their results in a study titled “Resonant inelastic X-ray incarnation of Young’s double-slit experiment.”

The double-slit experiment is of fundamental importance in physics. More than 200 years ago, Thomas Young diffracted light at two adjacent slits, thus generating interference patterns (images based on superposition) behind this double slit. Thus, he demonstrated the wave nature of light. In the 20th century, scientists have shown that electrons or molecules scattered on a double slit show the same interference pattern, which contradicts the classical expectation of particle behaviour, but can be explained in quantum-mechanical wave-particle dualism. In contrast, the researchers in Cologne investigated an iridium oxide crystal (Ba3CeIr2O9) by means of resonant inelastic X-ray scattering (RIXS).

The crystal is irradiated with strongly collimated, high-energy X-ray photons. The X-rays are scattered by the iridium atoms in the crystal, which take over the role of the slits in Young’s classical experiment. Due to the rapid technical development of RIXS and a skilful choice of crystal structure, the physicists were observed the scattering on two adjacent iridium atoms, a so-called dimer.

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