Welcome to Ultrafast Belfast!

The Ultrafast Belfast Research group uses state-of-the-art laser technology to study ultrafast molecular dynamics. We are part of the Centre for Plasma Physics, at Queen's University Belfast , in Northern Ireland.

We use femtosecond laser pulses to initiate and control molecular motion on ultrashort timescales. In our research we have imaged the motion of fundamental molecules, and demonstrated control over molecular fragmentation. Through new techniques using electrostatic ion traps, we are pursuing high-resolution studies of larger polyatomic molecules, with unique applications for research at the Life-Science interface. 


Our Team Observes Electron Motion in a Biological Molecule on an Attosecond Timescale! 

Work Published in Science - (17 Oct 2014)

Click image on right to see movie of the ultrafast charge oscillations in Phenylalanine
(courtesy of our theoretical collaborators in Madrid,  Fernando Martin and David Ayuso)

Charge Motion in Phe  Charge Movie
The work, reported in Science, was carried out using some of the shortest laser pulses in the world which were used as strobe lighting to track the ultrafast movement of the electrons within the nanometer-sized molecule. These attosecond laser pulses were used to initially stimulate the electrons and then to observe their resulting collective oscillations which lasted for 4300 attoseconds (billion-billionths of a second), the fastest process ever observed in a biological structure.
Explaining how electrons move on the nanoscale is crucial for the understanding of a range of processes in biology as it is this charge which initiates chemical reactions. For instance the charge produced from the interaction of ionizing radiation with DNA and its subsequent ultrafast excursions is crucial in determining the resulting damage to the DNA which can result in cell death or mutations. This knowledge is important for understanding the action of radiotherapy beams in cancer treatment.  Being able to describe how light interacts with electrons on these timescales could also lead to the technological improvements such as solar cells which collect electrons more efficiently or faster microprocessors which use light rather than electrical signals for switching transistors.

The attosecond laser used for the research was developed at the Politecnico di Milano as part of a long-standing collaboration between Professor Mauro Nisoli and Dr Francesca Calegari (IFN-CNR), and the study of electrons in biomolecules has since 2012 been the product of a collaboration with Ultrafast Belfast.

New Publication - October 2014

Resonantly Enhanced Multiphoton Ionization Spectrum of the Neutral Green Fluorescent Protein Chromophore

J.B. Greenwood et al., J. Phys. Chem. Lett, 5(20), 3588-3592 (2014)
Green Fluorescent Protein Chromophore 

The photophysics of the green fluorescent protein is governed by the electronic structure of the chromophore at the heart of its β-barrel protein structure. We present the first two-color, resonance-enhanced, multiphoton ionization spectrum of the isolated neutral chromophore in vacuo with supporting electronic structure calculations. We find the absorption maximum to be 3.65 ± 0.05 eV (340 ± 5 nm), which is blue-shifted by 0.5 eV (55 nm) from the absorption maximum of the protein in its neutral form. Our results show that interactions between the chromophore and the protein have a significant influence on the electronic structure of the neutral chromophore during photoabsorption and provide a benchmark for the rational design of novel chromophores as fluorescent markers or photomanipulators.

This work was performed using the EPSRC Laser Loan Pool at Queen's University Belfast and is part of a  collaboration with Professor Helen Fielding of University College London.

Best Oral Presentation Prize for Louise Belshaw at Annual Meeting of the Spectroscopy and Dynamics Group of the Royal Society of Chemistry in Durham - Jan 2013
(click on
presentation to left to view)

Ultrafast Charge Migration in a Biomolecule, Phenylalanine
Recent results published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters

In a new publication in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, we report on an experimental observation of charge migration within a timesale of 30 fs in the amino acid, phenylalanine (left). This is one of the fastest processes to be observed in a biological molecule.

CPOTSSummer Activities, 2012/13
Summer Schools and Conferences
Ultrafast Belfast was represented at the CPOTS (Charged Particle Optics, Theory and Simulation) Erasmus Intensive Program in Crete this year (August / September), and also at QuAMP, (see here for the conference website) held in Queen's University, Belfast. More details are given in our presentations pages.

Poster Prizes in 2011

Louise Belshaw and Martin Duffy: Christmas Meeting of the High Power Laser Community, Dec 2011 .
Louise and Martin were both awarded prizes for their posters at the Christmas meeting, with Louise presenting recent work on Laser Induced Acoustic Desorption (LIAD) as a technique with which to study gas phase biomolecules, and  Martin presenting KEIRA - CHIMERA for high resolution mass spectrometry.

Front Cover of Analyst

Article chosen for the front cover of Analyst.
The first issue of the Royal Society of Chemistry journal in 2012 will feature a recent article from Ultrafast Belfast on the front cover. This paper discusses the use of femtosecond lasers as an invaluable tool with which to distinguish reaction products following catalysis.

Chris Calvert
'Research Impact Showcase': Sept 2011

Ultrafast Belfast has been highlighted as high-impact research at QUB.
In an interview with Dr Chris Calvert and Prof Ian Williams, our studies of molecular control have been highlighted as one of the many pioneering research projects in the University. The interview can be found here as a  web article or pdf.  Also see the full list of case studies with contributions from across the University.

Summer Conferences 2011
-- ICPEAC XXVII, the International Conference on Photonic, Electronic and Atomic Collisions was held at Queen's this summer for more information, see the conference website.  
-- ISWAMP, one of the ICPEAC satellite meetings, was also held locally, at Dubln City University.  This meeting on Intense-field Short Wavelength Atomic and Molecular Processes was of particular interest to the FEL and attosecond communities.
-- Ultrafast Belfast was also represented at several other international conferences:
ISACC,  and FEMTO10. See our presentations page for more information on posters and talks. 

Poster Prizes for Recent Research
  • Martin Duffy: Spectroscopy Dynamics Group Meeting (Jan 2011)
    Martin was awarded first prize at the SDG meeting, at Heriot Watt in Edinburgh. He presented a poster on recent studies of molecular fragmentation in the KEIRA ion trap mass spectrometer. 
  • Louise Belshaw: High Power Laser Christmas Meeting (Dec 2010)
    Louise Belshaw was awarded 
    the runner-up poster prize for her work on 'Femtosecond Ionisation and Mass Analysis of Trapped Molecules'.