The measurement of excited-state lifetimes is complementary to measuring transition wavelengths as a way of studying atomic structure. Although the lifetimes are determined by the same wavefunctions as the energy levels the measurements of the atomic decays carry different information since they are sensitive to the long-range behavior of the wavefunctions. The knowledge of the lifetimes also has important practical applications. They are critical in the density diagnostics of laboratory and astrophysical plasmas.
The principle of measuring lifetimes with an EBIT lies in the periodic fast switching of different voltages in the machine. Since the ions are created and excited with the same beam of electrons, by changing the electron beam energy one can selectively exclude certain levels from being excited. This can simply be done by setting the electron beam energy below the excitation threshold of the level to be excluded. Without further excitation the time dependence of the emitted photon signal carries the information about the lifetime of the level. After a certain period of time (determined by the lifetime of the level) the electron beam energy is set to be above the excitation threshold to repopulate the level and repeat the sequence. An alternative method for measuring lifetimes with an EBIT is to switch off the electron beam completely, take data, and turn the beam back again to re-excite the ions in the trap. While the electron beam is off, the ions remain trapped by the magnetic field. The lifetime range that can be measured with an EBIT is determined by the capabilities for the fast switching of voltages. In principle the 10 ns to 10 ms lifetime range can be addressed by this method. Since this lifetime range is only partially covered by other methods the EBIT is a unique tool for measuring the lifetime of long living metastable levels.
In a recent experiment we have measured the lifetime of a visible light emitting metastable level . The transition takes places within the ground state configuration of titanium-like ions. The measured lifetimes fall into the millisecond range.
The EBIT was originally developed for in situ spectroscopic measurements of highly charged ions. It soon turned out, however, that the machine is easily capable of producing the highest charge states not accessible even for sophisticated ion sources. To use the EBIT as a source for ions an extraction system has to be built which removes the ions from the trap region and transports them outside the machine. The construction of the extraction system on the NIST EBIT was completed in the first half of 1995 [12,20]. When the ions are extracted from the EBIT they pass several ion beam steering and shaping ion-optical elements. A bending magnet is available as a part of the system to charge-to-mass select the ions and direct them into experimental chambers. Recent experiments with the extracted ions involve the study of nanometer scale damages of insulator surfaces caused by the impact of highly charged ions. X-ray  and Electron spectroscopic investigations  of metal-surface -- highly-charged-ion interactions are under way.