Capturing single photons to explore fundamental physics and quantum information science | 7/23/2018 | Staff
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Quantum optics, where light and matter interactions are examined at the microscopic level, has earned Nobel prizes—including three awarded since 2001—for some of science's biggest names. However, even in this mature field, some interesting physics remains largely unexplored. An international team of scientists from Technische Universität Wien (Austria), Duke University, Università degli Studi di Palermo and Istituto Nanoscienze CNR (Italy), and the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory has unveiled a new approach for photon trapping that can localize and store one photon, providing another option for unraveling complicated physics and manipulating the quantum state of single photons. Their work was recently published in Physical Review Letters.

Yao-Lung (Leo) Fang, an assistant computational scientist with the Quantum Computing Group in Brookhaven's Computational Science Initiative and a co-author of the paper, explained that a particle occupying a stable bound state is confined in space, such as an electron orbiting a hydrogen atom. However, bound states are typically disconnected from the continuous energy spectrum—i.e., out of the continuum—of the system. This makes bound states in the continuum (BIC) an interesting yet difficult physical phenomenon to study. In fact, Fang noted BIC is an active research topic across many scientific and engineering fields.

Waveguide - Setups - Testbed - Channel - Atoms

In some atom waveguide setups (a testbed where a one-dimensional optical channel is strongly coupled to atoms) a BIC consisting of collective excitations of light and matter can exist. Armed with this knowledge, Fang and his colleagues determined a new approach to excite the BIC, which previously was thought to be possible only with spontaneous photon emission. Unlike conventional approaches that require controlling light propagating in a medium, their excitation method provided a novel way of trapping single photons without slowing down the light.

"When Francesco [Ciccarello, co-author of the paper] first brought up this idea of exciting the BIC to us,...
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