On-chip atomic spectroscopy

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  • Published: Jun 15, 2007
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Atomic
thumbnail image: On-chip atomic spectroscopy

Atomic spectroscopy can be performed with integrated optics on a chip for the first time, according to US researchers, who passed a beam of light through a rubidium vapour cell integrated into the chip.

Atomic spectroscopy, of course, is a widely used technique with diverse applications, but conventional systems require bulky components. Now, Holger Schmidt, associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz and colleagues postdoctoral researcher Wenge Yang, lead author on the paper, postdoctoral researcher Dongliang Yin, and graduate student Bin Wu together with graduate student Don Conkey and associate professor of electrical engineering Aaron Hawkins at Brigham Young University, have developed a compact, fully planar device that facilitates the study of atoms and molecules on a chip-based platform with integrated optics.

The researchers have designed and produced the first monolithically integrated, planar rubidium cell on a chip, which they describe in detail in the June issue of Nature Photonics. Schmidt emphasises that the new instrument could have applications in the frequency stabilization for lasers, gas detection sensors, and quantum information processing.

"To stabilize lasers, we use precision spectroscopy with bulk rubidium vapour cells," Schmidt says, "Using this technology, we could build a little integrated frequency stabilization chip that would do that more easily than a conventional frequency stabilization circuit." To this end, work is already under way.

"Fundamental concepts in quantum information processing have been demonstrated in principle using bulk rubidium systems," Schmidt says, "To be practical you cannot have big optical tables in all the places you would want to use it, but now we can make this technology more compact and portable." The quantum information processing applications are a little more long-term.

The cell on a chip exploits an earlier development from the from the UCSC and BYU labs - a hollow-core optical waveguide based on antiresonant reflecting optical waveguide (ARROW) principles. The waveguides utilise conventional silicon fabrication technology in their integration. By incorporating rubidium reservoirs into the chip and connecting these reservoirs to the hollow-core waveguides, the researchers could direct an optical beam path filled with rubidium atoms.

The vapour cell is entirely self-contained, says Schmidt, and has an active cell volume some 80 million times smaller than a conventional cell. "We used rubidium as a proof of principle," explains Schmidt, "but this technique is applicable to any gaseous medium. So it has potentially far-reaching implications."

Schmidt told SpectroscopyNOW that, "Frequency stabilization could be implemented within a couple of years, while quantum communications applications are definitely further out, at least ten years." He adds that the latter area, "is in the fundamental science stage which makes it also very exciting for us."

About Schmidt and Hawkins

Schmidt and Hawkins, shrinking atomic spectroscopy

Credit: W. Yang et al., Nature Photonics

Atomic chip laid bare

Photo courtesy of H. Schmidt

On-chip spec

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