The dissipative dynamics of the laser-induced nonthermal desorption of small molecules from a metal surface is investigated here. Based on the density matrix formalism a multi-state model is introduced which explicitly takes into account the continuum of electronic states in the metal. Various relaxation mechanisms for the electronic degrees of freedom are shown to govern the desorption dynamics and hence the desorption probability. Particular attention is paid to the modeling of the time dependence of the electron energy distribution in the metal which reflects different excitation conditions.
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