The control of the electric and optical properties of semiconductors with microwave fields forms the basis of modern electronics, information processing and optical communications. The extension of such control to optical frequencies calls for wideband materials such as dielectrics, which require strong electric fields to alter their physical properties1,2,3,4,5. Few-cycle laser pulses permit damage-free exposure of dielectrics to electric fields of several volts per ångström6 and significant modifications in their electronic system6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13. Fields of such strength and temporal confinement can turn a dielectric from an insulating state to a conducting state within the optical period14. However, to extend electric signal control and processing to light frequencies depends on the feasibility of reversing these effects approximately as fast as they can be induced. Here we study the underlying electron processes with sub-femtosecond solid-state spectroscopy, which reveals the feasibility of manipulating the electronic structure and electric polarizability of a dielectric reversibly with the electric field of light. We irradiate a dielectric (fused silica) with a waveform-controlled near-infrared few-cycle light field of several volts per angström and probe changes in extreme-ultraviolet absorptivity and near-infrared reflectivity on a timescale of approximately a hundred attoseconds to a few femtoseconds. The field-induced changes follow, in a highly nonlinear fashion, the turn-on and turn-off behaviour of the driving field, in agreement with the predictions of a quantum mechanical model. The ultrafast reversibility of the effects implies that the physical properties of a dielectric can be controlled with the electric field of light, offering the potential for petahertz-bandwidth signal manipulation.
- Advanced Materials Science