Letter | Published:

Quantum nonlinear optics with single photons enabled by strongly interacting atoms

Nature volume 488, pages 5760 (02 August 2012) | Download Citation

Abstract

The realization of strong nonlinear interactions between individual light quanta (photons) is a long-standing goal in optical science and engineering1,2, being of both fundamental and technological significance. In conventional optical materials, the nonlinearity at light powers corresponding to single photons is negligibly weak. Here we demonstrate a medium that is nonlinear at the level of individual quanta, exhibiting strong absorption of photon pairs while remaining transparent to single photons. The quantum nonlinearity is obtained by coherently coupling slowly propagating photons3,4,5 to strongly interacting atomic Rydberg states6,7,8,9,10,11,12 in a cold, dense atomic gas13,14. Our approach paves the way for quantum-by-quantum control of light fields, including single-photon switching15, all-optical deterministic quantum logic16 and the realization of strongly correlated many-body states of light17.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge technical support from A. Mazurenko. This work was supported in part by NSF, CUA and the AFOSR Quantum Memories MURI. A.V.G. acknowledges funding from the Lee A. DuBridge Foundation and the IQIM, an NSF Physics Frontiers Center with support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Physics and Research Laboratory of Electronics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Thibault Peyronel
    • , Ofer Firstenberg
    • , Qi-Yu Liang
    • , Sebastian Hofferberth
    •  & Vladan Vuletić
  2. Department of Physics, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Ofer Firstenberg
    • , Sebastian Hofferberth
    •  & Mikhail D. Lukin
  3. Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

    • Alexey V. Gorshkov
  4. Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Nöthnitzer Strasse 38, D-01187 Dresden, Germany

    • Thomas Pohl

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Contributions

The experiment was designed and built by S.H., T. Peyronel and Q.-Y.L. Measurements and analysis of the data presented were carried out by T. Peyronel, O.F. and Q.-Y.L. The theoretical analysis was performed by A.V.G. and T. Pohl. All experimental and theoretical work was supervised by M.D.L. and V.V. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Mikhail D. Lukin or Vladan Vuletić.

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    Supplementary Information

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11361

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