Iron is one of the most studied chemical elements due to its sociotechnological and planetary importance; hence, understanding its structural transition dynamics is of vital interest. By combining a short pulse optical laser and an ultrashort free electron laser pulse, we have observed the subnanosecond structural dynamics of iron from high-quality x-ray diffraction data measured at 50-ps intervals up to 2500 ps. We unequivocally identify a threewave structure during the initial compression and a two-wave structure during the decaying shock, involving all of the known structural types of iron (α-, γ-, and ϵ-phase). In the final stage, negative lattice pressures are generated by the propagation of rarefaction waves, leading to the formation of expanded phases and the recovery of γ-phase. Our observations demonstrate the unique capability of measuring the atomistic evolution during the entire lattice compression and release processes at unprecedented time and strain rate.
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