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Introductory Quantum Optics

Section 3. Multiphoton states and the free radiation eld


Almut Beige
(Dated: December 6, 2006)
Summary. In the rst section, we discussed the quantum mechanical properties of single photons.
The second section was devoted to the behaviour of a laser-driven two-level atom. The connection
between these two subjects is still missing. We will try to cover the main aspects of the interaction
between light and matter in the third part of this course. This requires a more formal description
of the electromagnetic eld surrounding a trapped atom, the free radiation eld, in terms of photon
annihilation and creation operators. We will learn more about the interaction of atoms with this
eld and about the origin of the spontaneous emission of photons.
3.0 Introduction
In this section, we discuss the light matter interaction that leads to the spontaneous emission of photons.
As before, we use the single laser-driven and trapped two-level atom as a standard example. We know
already that such an atom can emit a photon, if there is some excitation in the excited state |2. To nd
the origin for such an emission, we will have to look at the interaction of the atom with the surrounding
vacuum eld. Moreover, the walls of the laboratory play an important role in this process. Conceptually,
this is probably the most dicult part of this quantum optics course.
In the next subsection, we will review the basic features of the quantum mechanical harmonic
oscillator. Its energy eigenstates can easily be identied with the photon number states, since the
harmonic oscillator has the same energy level structure. The annihilation and creation operator of the
harmonic oscillator will become the annihilation and creation operator of a single photon. To illustrate
this idea, we will introduce the coherent states. They are certain superpositions of all possible photon
number states and an example of a multiphoton state. We will analyse their basic features using the
previously dened photon annihilation and creation operator.
Once this is done, we already have the basic tools for the quantisation of the free radiation eld.
Please try to understand the basic idea behind the introduction of a quantum mechanical observable for
the electric eld. We ask again the question, what is a photon and make a short excursion into quantum
eld theory. In the nal lecture, we write down the Hamiltonian for the atom-eld interaction and
conclude with a short discussion of the spontaneous emission of a photon. In this way, we close the circle
and are back to Section 1, where we discussed what kind of experiments one can do with a single photon.
We also come again across the trajectories of a single atom, which we discussed already in Section 2.
3.1 The harmonic oscillator
The Hamiltonian of the quantum mechanical harmonic oscillator is of the general form
H = h a

a . (1)
Here a and a

are the annihilation and creation operators for one quant of energy. The only thing we
need to know about them is that they obey the commutator relation
[a, a

] = aa

a = 1 . (2)
We now use these two equations to nd out more about the energy eigenvalues and eigenvectors of the
harmonic oscillator.
Suppose, |n is an eigenstate of H with energy E
n
and H|n = E
n
|n. Calculating H
_
a

|n
_
we can
then show that a

|n is also an eigenstate of H. The energy of this state equals E


n
+ h. Using Eq. (1),
we see indeed that
H
_
a

|n
_
= h a

a a

|n
2
h
n
.
.
.
n=0
n1
n+1
n+2
.
.
.
lowest energy eigenstate
FIG. 1: Level diagram of the harmonic oscillator. We later identify its ground state with the photon vacuum
state and interpret the states |n as n-photon states.
= h a

_
a

a + 1
_
|n
= h a

_
E
n
/( h) + 1) |n
= (E
n
+ h)
_
a

|n
_
. (3)
Analogously, namely by calculating H
_
a|n
_
, one can show that a|n is the eigenstate of H with eigenvalue
E
n
h. As a consequence, the energy eigenstates of the harmonic oscillator form a ladder system, as
shown in Figure 1, with energy spacing h. In the following we denote the state with the lowest energy
as |0. Such a state must exist, since there is always a state with the lowest energy, and it has to full
the condition
a |0 = 0 . (4)
Without any restrictions, we can assume that E
0
= 0. The state |1 is then the state with energy
E
1
= h and |n has the energy E
n
= nh.
As we said above, we plan to identify the energy eigenstates of the harmonic oscillators with certain
photon states. The energy level structure (c.f. Figure 1) suggests that we should identify |0 with the
vacuum state of the radiation eld which contains no photons and therefore also no energy. The state
|1 is in the following the state with exactly one photon in the eld. The frequency of the photon equals
and its energy is h. The general state |n is called a photon number or Fock state. Its a multiphoton
state with n identical photons of frequency and has the energy nh.
From the relation
H|n = h a

a |n = nh |n (5)
we can see that the operator a

a counts the number photons in a given state. It is therefore also known


as the photon number operator. Moreover, one can show that
a |n =

n|n 1 ,
a

|n 1 =

n|n . (6)
Since the operator a

applied to |n creates a state with one more energy quanta h, it is called the
photon creation operator, while a, doing the inverse, is the photon annihilation operator. For example,
a |1 = |0 and a

|0 = |1. Note also that the photon number states are pairwise orthogonal and
n|m = 0 for n = m and n|m = 1 for n = m.
3.2 Coherent photon states
The photon number states are the most quantum mechanical states of light. This means, in most
situations they are the ones that can the least be approximated by a classical light eld. In this subsection
we introduce another set of states, the coherent states. Their properties most closely resemble those of
classical elds, like a laser pulse. There denition is given below,
| exp
_

1
2
||
2
_

n=0

n!
|n . (7)
3
The number can be any complex number. We now discuss the basic features of the coherent states
and photon operators a and a

.
For example, one can easily show that the states | are normalised,
| = exp
_
||
2
_

n=0
||
2n
n!
n|n = exp
_
||
2
_
exp
_
||
2
_
= 1 . (8)
Coherent states are also useful in calculations, since they are the eigenstates of the annihilation operator
a with eigenvalue . To show this, we calculate
a | = exp
_

1
2
||
2
_

n=1

n!

n|n 1 = | . (9)
The mean number of photons for a system prepared in | equals
n = | a

a | = a |
2
= ||
2
(10)
and the probability for nding m photons in the photon state | is given by
P(m) =

m|

2
= exp
_
||
2
_
||
2m
m!
= exp
_
n
_
n
m
m!
. (11)
As an example, calculate this probability distribution, i.e. P(m) as a function of m, numerically for a
small and a large value of m.
Moreover, one can calculate the overlap between two dierent coherent states | and |,
| = exp
_

1
2
(||
2
+||
2
)
_

n=0

n
n!
= exp
_

1
2
||
2

1
2
||
2
+

_
, (12)
which implies

2
= exp
_
| |
2
_
. (13)
The coherent states are therefore not pairwise orthogonal. Since they can nevertheless be used to
represent any state by writing it as a superposition of them, they are called an overcomplete basis.
To nd the decomposition for a given state | one can do the usual trick and multiply the state with
1 in the appropriately chosen representation. Here we use
1 =
1

_
d|| . (14)
To proof this relation one should calculate the intergral over the whole complex plane in the right hand
side of Eq. (14) using for example the notation
_
d|| =
_
2
0
d
_

0
dr |re
i
re
i
| (15)
and show that it equals . As an example, we nally write the photon number state |n as a superposition
of coherent states |. Doing so, we nd
|n = 1 |n =
1

_
d||n
=
1

_
d exp
_

1
2
||
2
_
_

n
_

n!
| . (16)
Using this approach, one can write any multiphoton state | as a superposition of coherent states.
4
y
x
length of each side: L
z
FIG. 2: The optical cavity is a box with metallic surfaces with width, height and depth L.
3.3 The quantisation of the free radiation eld
It is relatively easy to nd the quantum mechanical observable for a physical quantity that can be
expressed as a function f of position x and momentum p. According to the correspondance principle,
the observable equals the same function f(x, p) but with position and momentum replaced by their
quantum mechanical counter parts. However, nding the operator that describes the electric eld is
much harder. In the following, we discuss the main ideas behind the quantisation of the radiation eld.
We will derive the operator for the electric eld E(r) surrounding a trapped atom in free space. This
will later enable us to write down the interaction between the atom and the free radiation eld.
Here is a highly simplied description of the quantisation of the free radiation eld:
1. We consider a large box with superconducting walls with sides of equal length L. Such a box is
shown in Figure 2 and is also called an optical cavity. The radiation eld is modelled by the eld
inside this box.
2. We now nd the solutions of Maxwells equations for the electric eld inside the box. Its metallic
walls introduce boundary conditions. The electric eld E(r, t) should vanish along their surface
such that, for example,
E
x
(r, t) = 0 for y = 0 and y = L. (17)
This boundary condition is enforced by the fact that any E-eld of this type is always immediately
compensated by a current within the surface of the box.
3. The basic solutions of Maxwells equations are
E(r, t) = iA
k,

k,
_
e
i(
k
tkr)
e
i(
k
tkr)
_
. (18)
Here A
k,
is the amplitude of an oscillating electric eld with frequency
k
and wave vector k. The
vector
k,
is a polarisation vector of unit length and parallel to the direction of the electric eld.
To assure that Eq. (18) is a solution of Maxwells equations, which fullls all the boundary conditions
of the form (17), the vectors
k,
and k cannot be of any size. They have to be chosen such that

k,1

k,2
= 0 ,

k,
k = 0 for = 1, 2, (19)
and
k =
_
2n
x
L
,
2n
y
L
,
2n
z
L
_
with n
x
, n
y
, n
z
= 0, 1, 2, ... (20)
This means, that for any possible wave vector k, there are two possible directions for the electric
eld (18).
4. Up to here, we havent treated the system in any non-classical way. To quantise the radiation
eld inside the cavity we identify the solutions (18) with the electric eld of certain photon states.
The amplitude A
k,
should be related to the number of photons in the mode (k, ). The vector k
becomes the wave vector of these photons,
k,
should characterise their polarisation and
k
should
be their respective frequency.
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5. The most general solution of the electric eld is an arbitrary superposition of the basic solutions
given in Eq. (18), namely
E(r, t) = i

=1,2
A
k,

k,
_
e
i(
k
tkr)
e
i(
k
tkr)
_
. (21)
To nd the quantum mechanical observable for the electric eld that ts the intuition given above
and can be applied to describe arbitrary photon states, we now replace the variables oscillating
oscillating with frequency
k
with annihilation and creation operators of harmonic oscillators,
A
k,
e
i
k
t

_
h
k
2
0
L
3
a
k,
,
A
k,
e
i
k
t

_
h
k
2
0
L
3
a

k,
. (22)
The operators a
k,
and a

k,
in this equation should full the commutator relations
[ a
k,
, a

] =
kk

,
. (23)
We see below, why the factor in front of the annihilation and creation operators a
k,
and a

k,
has
been chosen in exactly this form.
Note that each mode (k, ) of the radiation eld constitutes one harmonic oscillator and with the
respective photon annihilation operator a
k,
and photon creation operator a

k,
. This seemingly
random choice of operators yields eld operators and a Hamiltonian,, which are in good agreement
with experimental observations.
As a nal result we obtain the quantum mechanical observable for the electric eld in the absence
of any charges and currents,
E(r) = i

=1,2
_
h
k
2
0
L
3
_

k,
a
k,
e
ikr

k,
a

k,
e
ikr
_
. (24)
Since the system in which we observe the electric eld (the box) does not change in time, the electric
eld operator depends only on r and not on the time t, as it should.
For completeness, we also mention the Hamiltonian that describes the energy stored in the radiation
eld. It equals
H
eld
=

=1,2
h
k
a

k,
a
k,
. (25)
This Hamiltonian is the sum over all possible harmonic oscillators. In the above ve steps we have
quantised the radiation eld inside a box of a nite length L. However, to describe the free radiation
eld, i.e. the eld surrounding, for example, a single trapped atom, we have to allow photons of all wave
vectors k. This is achieved by letting L go to innity. Imagine the free radiation eld as a large box
(L ) which can be populated by standing wave solutions of the electromagnetic eld with vanishing
amplitudes on its surface.
3.4 The origin of spontaneous emission
Before we can have a look at the physical process, which results in the spontaneous generation of a single
photon, we have to derive the Hamiltonian for the interaction between the atom and the free radiation
eld. As before in the derivation of the laser Hamiltonian, this interaction is a dipole interaction. This
means
H
int
= e E(r = 0) x, (26)
6
where x is the quantum mechanical position operator
x = D|12| +D

|21| (27)
and E(r = 0) is the observable for the electric eld at the position r = 0 of the atom given by
E(r = 0) = i

=1,2
_
h
k
2
0
L
3
_

k,
a
k,

k,
a

k,
_
. (28)
The total energy of the system including the atom the free radiation eld and their interaction is, in the
Schrodinger picture, described by the Hamiltonian
H = h
0
|22| +

=1,2
h
k
a

k,
a
k,
+H
int
. (29)
As before, in the derivation of the laser Hamiltonian, we now change into an interaction picture. Here
we choose
H
0
= h
0
|22| +

=1,2
h
k
a

k,
a
k,
. (30)
I wont bore you with the detailed calculation of this (in the last lecture!!!) but give you the result.
In the interaction picture one can do again the rotating wave approximation and neglect the fast
oscillating terms, whose eect on the time evolution is known to be much smaller than the eect of
the slowly oscillating terms. The strongest interaction between the atoms and the radiation eld occurs
for photon modes with
k

0
. We therefore take only terms proportional e
i(
0

k
)t
but not terms
proportional e
i(
0
+
k
)t
into account and nd
H
I
(t) = h

=1,2
_
g
k,
a
k,
|21| e
i(
0

k
)t
+g

k,
a

k,
|12| e
i(
0

k
)t
_
(31)
with the atom-photon coupling constants
g
k,
= ie
_
h
k
2
0
L
3

k,
D

. (32)
We can now use the Hamiltonian (31) to describe the spontaneous emission process from a single
two-level atom.
One aim of this lecture was to nd an as accurate as possible description of the trapped atom placed
inside the free radiation eld and driven by a laser (see Figure 3). Experimental observations of this
system show that the laser causes oscillations between level 1 and 2. We have analysed these Rabi
oscillations already in the previous section in detail. Moreover, at random times, the atom might jump
back into its ground state while emitting a photon. The emitted photons can be registered by causing a
click at a single photon detector or the walls of the laboratory. A possible trajectory of the atom, as it
may be recorded by a single photon detector, is shown in Figure 3.
The origin for the spontaneous creation of a photon is twofold. Suppose the initial state of the atom is
| = |1 + |2 . (33)
For = 0, the eect of the Hamiltonian (31) is to transfer excitation from the excited state into all the
possible photon modes (k, ) of the free radiation eld. All possible photon modes become populated.
Of course, the continuous solution of the Schrodinger equation using the Hamiltonian (31) cannot be
used to model the spontaneous (i.e. the sudden) creation of a photon in only one of these many modes!
This requires another process.
An important role in the photon emission process is played by the environment formed by the photon
detector or the walls of the laboratory. In the following, we model the eect of the environment outside
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possible trajectory:
.
laser
field
atom
free radiation
field
time 0
causing clicks at
photon emissions
a detector
FIG. 3: A single laser-driven atom trapped inside a free radiation eld and a possible trajectory, as it might be
observed in a quantum optics experiment.
the box containing the free radiation eld by assuming that it performs measurements at small time
intervals t apart, whether a photon has been created in any of the modes (k, ) or not. This model
is in good agreement with and mainly motivated by experimental ndings in quantum optics experiments.
In principle, we could now calculate the probability to nd a photon in any of the possible modes (k, )
after a short time t by calculating the time evolution operator of the Hamiltonian (31) for a short time
t. Doing so we would nd that the probability for an emission in t equals
P
emission
(t) = ||
2
t . (34)
As before, is the spontaneous decay rate of the exited state |2 of the atom. We can now in principle
show that it equals
=
e
2
|D|
2

3
0
6
0
hc
3
. (35)
Note that the probability to nd one photon in t is indeed proportional t as we assumed in the previous
section. The coupling of the two-level atom to a reservoir of ininitely many harmonic oscillators, namely
the dierent photon modes (k, ), can result in the sudden creation of a photon. The probability density
for this to happen equals ||
2
= | 2| |
2
. Of course, the photon emission is not exactly a
spontaneous process. It requires a nite time t but since t is very short compared to all other typical
times characterising the system, like 1/ and 1/, the creation of a photon can be considered a quantum
jump.