Photoic chip guides single photons past bends in the road
A collaboration of PFC-funded researchers from JQI has created a photonic chip that both generates single photons, and steers them around certain kinds of obstacles.
The chip starts with a photonic crystal, which is an established, versatile technology used to create roadways for light. They are made by punching holes through a sheet of semiconductor. For photons, the repeated hole pattern looks very much like a real crystal made from a grid of atoms. Researchers use different hole patterns to change the way that light bends and bounces through the crystal. For instance, they can modify the hole sizes and separations to make restricted lanes of travel that allow certain light colors to pass, while prohibiting others.
The light comes from small dubbed quantum emitters embedded into the photonic crystal. Researchers can use lasers to prod this material into releasing single photons. Photons coming from the two most energetic states of a single emitter are different colors and rotate in opposite directions.
The team tested the capabilities of the chip by first changing a quantum emitter from its lowest energy state to one of its two higher energy states. Upon relaxing back down, the emitter pops out a photon into the nearby travel lane. They continued this process many times, using photons from the two higher energy states. They saw that photons emitted from the two states preferred to travel in opposite directions, which was evidence of the underlying crystal topology.
To confirm that the design could indeed offer protected lanes of traffic for single photons, the team created a 60 degree turn in the hole pattern. In this new chip, topology protected the photons and allowed them to continue on their way unhindered.