Studies of current dynamics in solids have been hindered by insufficiently brief trigger signals and electronic detection speeds. By combining a coherent control scheme with photoelectron spectroscopy, we generated and detected lateral electron currents at a metal surface on a femtosecond time scale with a contact-free experimental setup. We used coherent optical excitation at the light frequencies ωa and ωa/2 to induce the current, whose direction was controlled by the relative phase between the phase-locked laser excitation pulses. Time- and angle-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy afforded a direct image of the momentum distribution of the excited electrons as a function of time. For the first (n = 1) image-potential state of Cu(100), we found a decay time of 10 femtoseconds, attributable to electron scattering with steps and surface defects.
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