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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/P030130/1
Title: Molecular Microcavity Photon Source
Principal Investigator: Hinds, Professor EA
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Dr A S Clark
Project Partners:
Department: Physics
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 August 2017 Ends: 31 January 2021 Value (£): 943,335
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Light-Matter Interactions Scattering & Spectroscopy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
25 Apr 2017 EPSRC Physical Sciences - April 2017 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Photons - quantum particles of light - have an important role to play in quantum science and technology. Information is easily stored in them. They are readily manipulated, conveniently transported and not much disturbed by their surroundings. The photons from a strongly attenuated laser beam arrive one at a time, but this type of source is not practical to use in most quantum applications because we do not know when the photons will come. That problem is normally addressed by passing the laser light through a crystal which occasionally, and randomly, splits a photon into two. When a photon is needed, we wait for one of the two to be detected (and destroyed), then we know that the other photon is ready for use in our quantum application. The communication of secret messages is one famous application of this approach.

This works well if only one or two photons are needed at a time, but many applications require several identical photons (or even dozens of them), either simultaneously or with accurate time delays. Unfortunately, the random nature of the splitting does not allow that. We need a source that can deliver photons rapidly and reliably whenever they are needed for applications such as quantum information processing, or the simulation of complex quantum systems. The photons should be identical so that they can exhibit quantum interference - i.e. interference of one particle with another - which is the essential feature of quantum particles giving rise to the famous power of quantum mechanics. Such a source does not yet exist.

Here we propose to build a source that produces identical photons, rapidly and on demand. Our method is to embed individual molecules of an organic dye (known as DBT) inside a small optical resonator, coupled to an optical fibre. When a photon is required, the molecule is excited by a bright pulse of light, after which it emits a photon. The resonator forces the photon to be emitted at a specific frequency and into the specific direction that couples to the fibre, thereby making the photons indistinguishable from each other. This is sometimes called the Purcell effect after Ed Purcell, who first noticed it in the context of magnetic resonance. Other researchers have tried to use the Purcell effect to make a good photon source, with various emitters such as quantum dots or colour centres in a crystal, but these have not been able to produce a high yield of identical photons because of the inadequate optical properties of the emitter. The novel aspect of our proposal is the DBT molecule, which has near ideal properties for this application, as we have recently shown. By incorporating this molecule into one of our cavities, we expect to produce a photon essentially every time we ask for one, and we can expect these photons to be identical. We also plan to tune the molecule by applying an electric field inside the cavity. Our design will allow us to stack up several miniature photon sources and choose whether the photons are identical or are tuned to an array of different frequencies. These can then be used to make complex quantum states of light suitable for a range of applications in quantum technology where suitable sources are currently lacking.

Beyond the immediate application to quantum information processing, our DBT molecular light source provides a promising new element for nano-optics and nano-electronics more generally. With a little imagination, we can see that these molecules may one day be enhanced by the addition of chemical groups to turn them into custom sensors for specific molecules, with sensitive readout by the light, or perhaps directly through an organic semiconductor.

In short, we will use DBT molecules in cavities to make identical photons on demand, satisfying an immediate need of quantum technology. By working to utilise this new type of quantum emitter, we expect to make a fundamental advance in the science and technology of nano-optics and nano-electronics.
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Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk