A subradiant optical mirror formed by a single structured atomic layer


Versatile interfaces with strong and tunable light–matter interactions are essential for quantum science1 because they enable mapping of quantum properties between light and matter1. Recent studies2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 have proposed a method of controlling light–matter interactions using the rich interplay of photon-mediated dipole–dipole interactions in structured subwavelength arrays of quantum emitters. However, a key aspect of this approach—the cooperative enhancement of the light–matter coupling strength and the directional mirror reflection of the incoming light using an array of quantum emitters—has not yet been experimentally demonstrated. Here we report the direct observation of the cooperative subradiant response of a two-dimensional square array of atoms in an optical lattice. We observe a spectral narrowing of the collective atomic response well below the quantum-limited decay of individual atoms into free space. Through spatially resolved spectroscopic measurements, we show that the array acts as an efficient mirror formed by a single monolayer of a few hundred atoms. By tuning the atom density in the array and changing the ordering of the particles, we are able to control the cooperative response of the array and elucidate the effect of the interplay of spatial order and dipolar interactions on the collective properties of the ensemble. Bloch oscillations of the atoms outside the array enable us to dynamically control the reflectivity of the atomic mirror. Our work demonstrates efficient optical metamaterial engineering based on structured ensembles of atoms4,8,9 and paves the way towards controlling many-body physics with light5,6,11 and light–matter interfaces at the single-quantum level7,10.

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Fig. 1: Setup of the experiment and cooperative optical response.
Fig. 2: Cooperative response for two different array geometries.
Fig. 3: Cooperative response versus filling fraction in the 2D array.
Fig. 4: Cooperative response under Bloch oscillation.
Fig. 5: Limitations to the cooperative response of the 2D array.

Data availability

The experimental data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The simulation results can be generated using the numerical methods described within Methods and Supplementary Information and the computer code developed, which are available upon reasonable request.


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We thank J. Ruostekoski, E. Shahmoon, J. I. Cirac, R. Bettles, R. Bekenstein, S. Yelin and M. Zwierlein for discussions. We acknowledge funding by the Max Planck Society (MPG), the European Union (PASQuanS grant number 817482) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) under Germany’s Excellence Strategy – EXC-2111 – 390814868. J.R. acknowledges funding from the Max Planck Harvard Research Center for Quantum Optics. J.Z. acknowledges support through a Feodor Lynen Fellowship by the Humboldt Foundation. D.M.S.-K. acknowledges support through a Carl Friedrich von Siemens Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Author information




J.R. acquired the data and, together with D.W. and A.R.-A., maintained and improved the experimental setup. D.W. contributed the theoretical simulations. C.G. and I.B. supervised the study. All authors worked on the interpretation of the data and contributed to the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jun Rui.

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Peer review information Nature thanks Charles Adams, Darrick Chang and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Rui, J., Wei, D., Rubio-Abadal, A. et al. A subradiant optical mirror formed by a single structured atomic layer. Nature 583, 369–374 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2463-x

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