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Spatial quantum noise interferometry in expanding ultracold atom clouds


In a pioneering experiment1, Hanbury Brown and Twiss (HBT) demonstrated that noise correlations could be used to probe the properties of a (bosonic) particle source through quantum statistics; the effect relies on quantum interference between possible detection paths for two indistinguishable particles. HBT correlations—together with their fermionic counterparts2,3,4—find numerous applications, ranging from quantum optics5 to nuclear and elementary particle physics6. Spatial HBT interferometry has been suggested7 as a means to probe hidden order in strongly correlated phases of ultracold atoms. Here we report such a measurement on the Mott insulator8,9,10 phase of a rubidium Bose gas as it is released from an optical lattice trap. We show that strong periodic quantum correlations exist between density fluctuations in the expanding atom cloud. These spatial correlations reflect the underlying ordering in the lattice, and find a natural interpretation in terms of a multiple-wave HBT interference effect. The method should provide a useful tool for identifying complex quantum phases of ultracold bosonic and fermionic atoms11,12,13,14,15.

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Figure 1: Illustration of the atom detection scheme and the origin of quantum correlations.
Figure 2: Single shot absorption image including quantum fluctuations and the associated spatial correlation function.
Figure 3: Correlation signal versus expansion time and atom number.


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We acknowledge discussions with E. Altman and M. Greiner, as well as financial support by the DFG, AFOSR and the EU under a Marie-Curie Fellowship (F.G.) and a Marie-Curie Excellence grant.

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Correspondence to Immanuel Bloch.

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Fölling, S., Gerbier, F., Widera, A. et al. Spatial quantum noise interferometry in expanding ultracold atom clouds. Nature 434, 481–484 (2005).

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