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4 Photons Controlled on Chip
Jun 2009
BRISTOL, UK, June 9, 2009 – A team of physicists and engineers has demonstrated the ultraprecise manipulation skills needed to make a major advance toward quantum technologies by precisely controlling four photons on a silicon chip.

The team, from the University of Bristol Centre for Quantum Photonics, used a microscopic metal electrode lithographically patterned onto a silicon chip to demonstrate their exquisite control of single particles of light. The photons propagate in silica waveguides – much like in optical fibers – patterned on a silicon chip, and are manipulated with the electrode, resulting in a high-performance miniaturized device.

An artist’s impression of the on-chip quantum metrology experiment (making ultraprecise measurements on chip). (Image: Will Amery, University of Bristol)

“This precise manipulation is a very exciting development for fundamental science as well as for future quantum technologies,” said professor Jeremy O’Brien, director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics, who led the research.

“We have been able to generate and manipulate entangled states of photons on a silicon chip,” said doctoral student Jonathan Matthews, who, together with Alberto Politi, performed the experiments. “These entangled states are responsible for famously ‘weird’ behavior arising in quantum mechanics, but are also at the heart of powerful quantum technologies.”

Quantum technologies aim to exploit the unique properties of quantum mechanics, the physics theory that explains how the world works at microscopic scales.

For example, a quantum computer relies on the fact that quantum particles, such as photons, can exist in a “superposition” of two states at the same time – in stark contrast to the transistors in a PC, which can be only in the state “0” or “1.”

Photons are an excellent choice for quantum technologies because they are relatively noise-free, information can be moved around at the speed of light, and manipulating single photons is easy.

Making two photons “talk” to each other to generate the all-important entangled states is much harder, but O’Brien and his colleagues at the University of Queensland demonstrated this in a quantum logic gate back in 2003 and reported it in the journal Nature.

Last year, the Centre for Quantum Photonics at Bristol showed how such interactions between photons could be realized on a silicon chip, pointing the way to advanced quantum technologies based on photons. That work was reported in Science.

Photons are also required to “talk” to each other to realize the ultraprecise measurements that harness the laws of quantum mechanics. In 2007, O’Brien and his Japanese collaborators reported such a quantum metrology measurement with four photons, as reported in Science.

“Despite these impressive advances, the ability to manipulate photons on a chip has been missing,” Politi said.

“For the last several years the Centre for Quantum Photonics has been working towards building fully functional quantum circuits on a chip to solve these problems,” O'Brien said.

The team coupled photons into and out of the chip, fabricated at CIP Technologies, using optical fibers. Application of a voltage across the metal electrode changed the temperature of the silica waveguide directly beneath it, thereby changing the path that the photons traveled. By measuring the output of the device, they confirmed high-performance manipulation of photons in the chip.

The researchers proved that one of the strangest phenomena of the quantum world, namely “quantum entanglement,” was achieved on-chip with up to four photons. Quantum entanglement of two particles means that the state of either of the particles is not defined, but only their collective state, and results in an instantaneous linking of the particles.

This on-chip entanglement has important applications in quantum metrology, and the team demonstrated an ultraprecise measurement in this way.

“As well as quantum computing and quantum metrology, on-chip photonic quantum circuits could have important applications in quantum communication since they can be easily integrated with optical fibers to send photons between remote locations,” Politi said.

“The really exciting thing about this result is that it will enable the development of reconfigurable and adaptive quantum circuits for photons. This opens up all kinds of possibilities,” O'Brien said.

The team reported its results in the June 2009 issue of Nature Photonics and also presented it in a Postdeadline Paper at the International Quantum Electronics Conference (IQEC) on June 4 during CLEO/IQEC in Baltimore.

A commentary on the work that appeared in the same Nature Photonics issue described it as “an important step in the quest for quantum computation” and concluded, “The most exciting thing about this work is its potential for scalability. The small size of the [device] means that far greater complexity is possible than with large-scale optics.”

The other co-author of the Nature Photonics paper is Dr André Stefanov, formerly a research fellow in the Centre for Quantum Photonics and now at the Federal Office of Metrology METAS in Switzerland.

The work was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Quantum Information Processing Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration, the US government Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity and the Leverhulme Trust.

For more information, visit:

1. A localized fracture at the end of a cleaved optical fiber or on a glass surface. 2. An integrated circuit.
The science of measurement, particularly of lengths and angles.
A quantum of electromagnetic energy of a single mode; i.e., a single wavelength, direction and polarization. As a unit of energy, each photon equals hn, h being Planck's constant and n, the frequency of the propagating electromagnetic wave. The momentum of the photon in the direction of propagation is hn/c, c being the speed of light.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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