Warm dense matter (WDM) represents a highly excited state that lies at the intersection of solids, plasmas, and liquids and that cannot be described by equilibrium theories. The transient nature of this state when created in a laboratory, as well as the difficulties in probing the strongly coupled interactions between the electrons and the ions, make it challenging to develop a complete understanding of matter in this regime. In this work, by exciting isolated ∼8 nm copper nanoparticles with a femtosecond laser below the ablation threshold, we create uniformly excited WDM. Using photoelectron spectroscopy, we measure the instantaneous electron temperature and extract the electron-ion coupling of the nanoparticle as it undergoes a solid-to-WDM phase transition. By comparing with state-of-the-art theories, we confirm that the superheated nanoparticles lie at the boundary between hot solids and plasmas, with associated strong electron-ion coupling. This is evidenced both by a fast energy loss of electrons to ions, and a strong modulation of the electron temperature induced by strong acoustic breathing modes that change the nanoparticle volume. This work demonstrates a new route for experimental exploration of the exotic properties of WDM.
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