Chiral effects appear in a wide variety of natural phenomena and are of fundamental importance in science, from particle physics to metamaterials. The standard technique of chiral discrimination—photoabsorption circular dichroism—relies on the magnetic properties of a chiral medium and yields an extremely weak chiral response. We have proposed and demonstrated an orders of magnitude more sensitive type of circular dichroism in neutral molecules: photoexcitation circular dichroism. This technique does not rely on weak magnetic effects, but takes advantage of the coherent helical motion of bound electrons excited by ultrashort circularly polarized light. It results in an ultrafast chiral response and the efficient excitation of a macroscopic chiral density in an initially isotropic ensemble of randomly oriented chiral molecules. We have probed this excitation using linearly polarized laser pulses, without the aid of further chiral interactions. Our time-resolved study of vibronic chiral dynamics opens a way to the efficient initiation, control and monitoring of chiral chemical change in neutral molecules at the level of electrons.

Nature Physics 14, 484 (2018)