Subnoise detection of a fast random event

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Science  11 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6266, pp. 1343-1346
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac8446

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Detecting a transient needle in a haystack

Discriminating signals within a noisy environment is an issue crucial to many disciplines, from observational astronomy to secure communication and imaging. If the signal is periodic, then averaging over many measurements can help enhance the signal-to-noise ratio. However, for signals that present as a single transient event, the detection capability has been limited. Ataie et al. developed a detector that can lift that limitation by combining signal cloning with frequency combs and signal-processing techniques (see the Perspective by Vasilyev). Their detector could detect signals buried within noise that would otherwise be undetectable.

Science, this issue p. 1343; see also p. 1314


Observation of random, nonrepetitive phenomena is of critical importance in astronomy, spectroscopy, biology, and remote sensing. Heralded by weak signals, hidden in noise, they pose basic detection challenges. In contrast to repetitive waveforms, a single-instance signal cannot be separated from noise through averaging. Here, we show that a fast, randomly occurring event can be detected and extracted from a noisy background without conventional averaging. An isolated 80-picosecond pulse was received with confidence level exceeding 99%, even when accompanied by noise. Our detector relies on instantaneous spectral cloning and a single-step, coherent field processor. The ability to extract fast, subnoise events is expected to increase detection sensitivity in multiple disciplines. Additionally, the new spectral-cloning receiver can potentially intercept communication signals that are presently considered secure.

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