In condensed matter physics, ultrafast photoexcitation has been shown to result in modification of macroscopic material properties, sometimes involving phase changes, on a subpicosecond time scale. In semiconductors, irreversible non-thermal solid-to-liquid structural transitions have been demonstrated at high laser fluences.
In the pump-probe experiments reported here, we observe a striking continuously varying low-fluence pump-induced time-dependent structural symmetry modification in intrinsic gallium arsenide (GaAs) using a probe that produces femtosecond polarization-resolved second harmonic generation (f-PRSHG) data. SHG spectroscopy is particularly suited to monitor symmetry changes since its magnitude is governed by the nonlinear optical susceptibility tensor whose elements are determined by the underlying material symmetry. Conceptually, these experiments seek to provide insight into the details of the time evolution of symmetry arising from laser induced transient states of matter in GaAs. Overall, the basic explanation of these experimental observations is that as a result of the photoinduced electronic excitation, many electrons, including bond electrons are excited to higher states. This results in subpicosecond changes in the local anharmonic potential and produces a changing nonlinear polarization response thus accounting for the nonthermal time dependent symmetry changes. Clearly, our approach may be easily extended to many different crystalline materials with different levels of defects, dopants and stresses to fully characterize the time dependent behavior of laser induced transient states in material systems.