Key insights into the behavior of materials can be gained by observing their structure as they undergo lattice distortion. Laser pulses on the femtosecond time scale can be used to induce disorder in a "pump- probe" experiment with the ensuing transients being probed stroboscopically with femtosecond pulses of visible light, x-rays, or electrons. Here we report three-dimensional imaging of the generation and subsequent evolution of coherent acoustic phonons on the picosecond time scale within a single gold nanocrystal by means of an x-ray free-electron laser, providing insights into the physics of this phenomenon. Our results allow comparison and confirmation of predictive models based on continuum elasticity theory and molecular dynamics simulations.
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