Nature 452, 72-75 (6 March 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06715; Received 11 July 2007; Accepted 20 December 2007

There is an Erratum (17 April 2008) associated with this document.

Strong dispersive coupling of a high-finesse cavity to a micromechanical membrane

J. D. Thompson1, B. M. Zwickl1, A. M. Jayich1, Florian Marquardt2, S. M. Girvin1,3 & J. G. E. Harris1,3

  1. Department of Physics, Yale University, 217 Prospect Street, New Haven, Connecticut, 06520, USA
  2. Physics Department, Center for NanoScience, and Arnold Sommerfeld Center for Theoretical Physics, Ludwig Maximilians University, Theresienstrasse 37, 80333, Munich, Germany
  3. Department of Applied Physics, Yale University, 15 Prospect Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA

Correspondence to: J. G. E. Harris1,3 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to J.G.E.H. (Email: jack.harris@yale.edu).

Macroscopic mechanical objects and electromagnetic degrees of freedom can couple to each other through radiation pressure. Optomechanical systems in which this coupling is sufficiently strong are predicted to show quantum effects and are a topic of considerable interest. Devices in this regime would offer new types of control over the quantum state of both light and matter1, 2, 3, 4, and would provide a new arena in which to explore the boundary between quantum and classical physics5, 6, 7. Experiments so far have achieved sufficient optomechanical coupling to laser-cool mechanical devices8, 9, 10, 11, 12, but have not yet reached the quantum regime. The outstanding technical challenge in this field is integrating sensitive micromechanical elements (which must be small, light and flexible) into high-finesse cavities (which are typically rigid and massive) without compromising the mechanical or optical properties of either. A second, and more fundamental, challenge is to read out the mechanical element|[rsquo]|s energy eigenstate. Displacement measurements (no matter how sensitive) cannot determine an oscillator|[rsquo]|s energy eigenstate13, and measurements coupling to quantities other than displacement14, 15, 16 have been difficult to realize in practice. Here we present an optomechanical system that has the potential to resolve both of these challenges. We demonstrate a cavity which is detuned by the motion of a 50-nm-thick dielectric membrane placed between two macroscopic, rigid, high-finesse mirrors. This approach segregates optical and mechanical functionality to physically distinct structures and avoids compromising either. It also allows for direct measurement of the square of the membrane|[rsquo]|s displacement, and thus in principle the membrane|[rsquo]|s energy eigenstate. We estimate that it should be practical to use this scheme to observe quantum jumps of a mechanical system, an important goal in the field of quantum measurement.