A long-standing discrepancy between experimental and theoretical values for the lifetimes of holes in the surface-state electron bands on noble metal surfaces is resolved; previous determinations of both are found to have been in error. The ability of the scanning tunneling microscope to verify surface quality before taking spectroscopic measurements is used to remove the effects of defect scattering on experimental lifetimes, found to have been a significant contribution to prior determinations. A theoretical treatment of inelastic electron-electron scattering is developed that explicitly includes intraband transitions within the surface state band. In our model, two- dimensional decay channels dominate the electron-electron interactions that contribute to the hole decay and are screened by the electron states of the underlying three-dimensional electron system.
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