The primary interaction is the absorption of photons by electrons. In metals free-free transitions increase the energy of the electron gas. In semiconductors and insulators electron-hole pairs are created, if the photon energy exceeds the band gap. If it is less, only multiphoton processes can initiate energy transfer from the light beam. In nearly all solid materials Auger processes and electron-phonon interactions occur on a picosecond time scale for the high density and energy of the carrier gas created by intense short laser pulses. Thus melting and evaporation of the material can occur on this time scale. These processes may be considered as the initial phases in the creation of laser produced plasmas. They have been studied by time-resolved measurements of the complex index of refraction, by electron and ion emission, by second harmonic generation, by electrical conductivity and other techniques. Fast time resolution is essential. The dynamic behavior of atoms and phase transitions in the picosecond and femtosecond regime has been opened up for experimental investigation.
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