Quantum Advancement Combines Free Electrons and Photons

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Aug. 23, 2022 — A collaboration between Swiss and German researchers demonstrated the generation of electron-photon pair states for the first time in a controlled way, using integrated photonic circuits on a chip. Using a new technique, they precisely detected the involved particles. The experiment could enable quantum-enhanced electron microscopy and adds free electrons to the toolbox of quantum technologies.

The study demonstrates a novel technique for generating free-electron/cavity-photon pairs using chip-based photonics integrated circuits in an electron microscope. The work was conducted by a collaboration between the groups of Claus Ropers at the Göttingen Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences and the University of Göttingen, and Tobias Kippenberg from EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.
An optical chip with ring-shaped light storage, called a microring resonator, and a fiber-optic coupling. The chip is only three millimeters wide, and the ring resonator at its tip has a radius of 0.114 millimeters. Courtesy of Armin Feist, Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences.
In work that demonstrated the generation of electron-photon pair states for the first time in a controlled way, researchers performed an experiment in which the beam of an electron microscope passed a built-in integrated photonic chip, consisting of a micro-ring resonator and optical fiber output ports. The optical chip is shown with a ring-shaped light storage, called a micro-ring resonator, and a fiber-optic coupling. The chip is only 3 mm wide, and the ring resonator at its tip has a radius of 0.114 mm. Courtesy of Armin Feist/Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences.
In the experiment, the beam of an electron microscope passes a built-in integrated photonic chip, consisting of a micro-ring resonator and optical fiber output ports. The approach used photonic structures fabricated at EPFL for TEM experiments performed at MPI-NAT (Göttingen). Whenever an electron interacted with the vacuum evanescent field of the ring resonator, the system evolved into an electron-photon pair state, a superposition between the cases of one photon generated and no photon generated.

Obeying the laws of energy- and momentum conservation, in the case when one photon is generated, the electron lost the energy quantum of a single photon. With a newly developed measurement method, both electron energy and generated photons were detected simultaneously, revealing the underlying electron-photon pair states.

Aside from observing this process for the first time at the single-particle level, these findings implement a novel concept for single-photon or electron generation. Specifically, the measurement of the pair state enables heralded particle sources, where the detection of one particle signals the generation of the other. This is necessary for many applications in quantum technology and adds to its growing toolset.

“The method opens up fascinating new possibilities in electron microscopy. In the field of quantum optics, entangled photon pairs already improve imaging. With our work, such concepts can now be explored with electrons,” said Max Planck Director Claus Ropers.

In the first proof-of-principle experiment, the researchers used the generated correlated electron-photon pairs for photonic mode imaging, achieving a three orders of magnitude contrast enhancement. “We believe our work has a substantial impact on the future development in electron microscopy by harnessing the power of quantum technology,” said Yujia Yang, a postdoc at EPFL and a co-lead author of the study.

A particular challenge for future quantum technology is how to interface different physical systems. “For the first time, we bring free electrons into the toolbox of quantum information science. More broadly, coupling free electrons and light using integrated photonics could open the way to a new class of hybrid quantum technologies,” said Tobias Kippenberg, professor at EPFL.

The work contributes to the emerging field of free-electron quantum optics, and it demonstrates a powerful experimental platform for event-based and photon-gated electron spectroscopy and imaging. “Our work represents a critical step to utilize quantum optics concepts in electron microscopy. We plan to further explore future directions like electron-heralded exotic photonic states, and noise reduction in electron microscopy,” said Guanhao Huang, a Ph.D. student at EPFL and co-lead author of the study.

The research was published in Science (

Published: August 2022
A semiconductor is a type of material that has electrical conductivity between that of a conductor and an insulator. In other words, semiconductors have properties that are intermediate between metals (good conductors of electricity) and insulators (poor conductors of electricity). The conductivity of a semiconductor can be controlled and modified by factors such as temperature, impurities, or an applied electric field. The most common semiconductors are crystalline solids, and they are...
1. A localized fracture at the end of a cleaved optical fiber or on a glass surface. 2. An integrated circuit.
integrated photonics
Integrated photonics is a field of study and technology that involves the integration of optical components, such as lasers, modulators, detectors, and waveguides, on a single chip or substrate. The goal of integrated photonics is to miniaturize and consolidate optical elements in a manner similar to the integration of electronic components on a microchip in traditional integrated circuits. Key aspects of integrated photonics include: Miniaturization: Integrated photonics aims to...
A resonator is a device or system that exhibits resonance, which is a phenomenon that occurs when an external force or stimulus is applied at a specific frequency, causing the system to oscillate with increased amplitude. Resonators are found in various fields and can take different forms depending on the type of waves involved, such as mechanical waves, acoustic waves, electromagnetic waves, or optical waves. Key points about resonators: Resonance: Resonance is a condition where a...
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.
A charged elementary particle of an atom; the term is most commonly used in reference to the negatively charged particle called a negatron. Its mass at rest is me = 9.109558 x 10-31 kg, its charge is 1.6021917 x 10-19 C, and its spin quantum number is 1/2. Its positive counterpart is called a positron, and possesses the same characteristics, except for the reversal of the charge.
Research & TechnologyOpticssemiconductorchipintegrated photonicsresonatorphotonMicroscopyelectronEPFLMax Planck InstituteGöttingenUniversity of GöttingenEuropeTobias Kippenbergmicro-ring

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