Ultrafast electron dynamics and orbital-dependent thermalization in photoexcited metals

Abstract : We use a time-dependent density functional theory (TDDFT) to analyze nonequilibrium dynamics of laser-excited electrons in transition metals (Ni, Cr, Cu) and shed light on the ultrafast thermalization process from a microscopical point of view. As a first result, after instant increase of the electron temperature up to 50 000 K, we observe that the dynamics of electron density of states is faster than a laser subcycle, on the attosecond timescale. This is related to an ultrafast rearrangement of excited electrons in space to accommodate strong changes in ion screening. Secondly, we show that the electron thermalization dynamics strongly depends on the electronic structure of a given metal. Excited by a 7-fs laser pulse, d-block transition metals exhibit two subsystems of electrons, each one achieving its own temperature. Due to a higher localization, electrons from d block stay cold, while excited delocalized sp electrons rapidly reach a high temperature. Electrons of each band of energy are mutually thermalized within the time of the laser pulse. Much more time is however needed to reach equilibrium of the whole electronic system. These results redraw the validity limits of current two-temperature models during the laser irradiation time, potentially impacting further material reaction.
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E. Silaeva, E. Bévillon, R. Stoian, Jean-Philippe Colombier. Ultrafast electron dynamics and orbital-dependent thermalization in photoexcited metals. Physical Review B : Condensed matter and materials physics, American Physical Society, 2018, 98 (9), pp.094306. ⟨10.1103/physrevb.98.094306⟩. ⟨ujm-02003534⟩

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