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The optical cavity consists of two mirrors with a reflectivity of more than 99.99% facing each other such that they can reflect a light pulse back and forth around 10 000 times. The light pulse thus interacts very strongly with the trapped atom.
“We trap a single 87-Rb atom in the resonator, which can then phase-shift an impinging light pulse,” explains study lead author Bastian Hacker. “If the atom is in an equal superposition of spin up and spin down states, the light pulse is brought into a superposition state as well.”
The technique is deterministic, he says, because the light pulse becomes entangled with the atom in every single trial.
“Cat states have been postulated to exist for decades now and the recipe to create them with an optical resonator, as in our study, was first put forward in a paper in 2005. To see this finally work is most exciting and it is one of the countless triumphs of quantum mechanics,” he tells Physics World.