Quantum tunnelling without a barrier

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Abstract

Tunnelling is a renowned concept in modern physics that highlights the peculiarity of non-classical dynamics. Despite its ubiquity questions remain. We focus on tunnelling through the barrier created by a strong laser field that illuminates an atomic target, which is essential to the creation of attosecond pulses and ultimately all attosecond processes. Here, we present an optical tunnelling event that, unexpectedly, happens at a time when the instantaneous electric field is zero and there is no barrier. We discover this strong-field ionisation event by introducing the colour-switchover technique $-$ the gradual replacement of a laser field with its second harmonic $-$ within which the zero-field tunnelling appears when the two amplitudes are equal. This event is a topologically stable feature and it appears at all Keldysh parameters. The tunnelling without a barrier highlights the disconnect between the standard intuition built on the picture of a quasi-static barrier, and the nonadiabatic nature of the process. Our findings provide a key ingredient to the understanding of strong-field processes, such as high-harmonic generation and laser-induced electron diffraction, driven by the increasingly accessible class of strongly polychromatic light fields.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2023

Keywords

  • quant-ph
  • physics.atom-ph
  • physics.optics

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