Nondestructive Detection of an Optical Photon

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Science  13 Dec 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6164, pp. 1349-1351
DOI: 10.1126/science.1246164

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Nondestructive Photon Detection

The click of a photon detector is the usual method for detecting a photon and can be sufficiently sensitive to detect even a single photon. Such a detection process is, however, destructive—the photon is annihilated. Reiserer et al. (p. 1349, published online 14 November) describe an experimental system capable of detecting a single photon without destroying it.


All optical detectors to date annihilate photons upon detection, thus excluding repeated measurements. Here, we demonstrate a robust photon detection scheme that does not rely on absorption. Instead, an incoming photon is reflected from an optical resonator containing a single atom prepared in a superposition of two states. The reflection toggles the superposition phase, which is then measured to trace the photon. Characterizing the device with faint laser pulses, a single-photon detection efficiency of 74% and a survival probability of 66% are achieved. The efficiency can be further increased by observing the photon repeatedly. The large single-photon nonlinearity of the experiment should enable the development of photonic quantum gates and the preparation of exotic quantum states of light.

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