Unraveling Phononic, Optoacoustic, and Mechanical Properties of Metals with Light-Driven Hypersound
A thorough understanding of the electron-phonon, thermo-optic, and acoustic properties of materials is of paramount importance for many applications in materials science and advanced applications adopting laser-induced sound waves. Even though metals are usually opaque to light, optical methods for materials characterization can still be developed, especially in the high-frequency regime, where phonon dynamics governs the thermal, acoustic, and even optical properties of metals. Ultrafast laser pulses incident on metals can lead to the generation of coherent phonon wave packets with frequencies in the gigahertz to terahertz range, providing a means to study the material properties in this otherwise inaccessible frequency range. While this principle has been known, the complex interplay of light and matter in both the generation and detection of such ultrafast hypersound pulses has limited its use mainly to geometrical effects. Here, we demonstrate the quantitative characterization of a range of different material properties using laser-driven hypersound. We use all-optical generation and detection of hypersound pulses to sensitively probe the bulk properties of various metals. We introduce an advanced two-dimensional numerical model that captures the generation, propagation, and detection of these hypersound waves in full detail. The combination of experiment and simulation allows us to unravel and elucidate various physical effects that appear over a wide range of different time scales. Through least-squares fitting of the data to the simulation results, we extract quantitative information about the electron-phonon, thermo-optic, and acoustic properties of metal films, establishing the ability to use light as a sensitive probe for the study of opaque materials.