Single-Photon Sources Combine High Purity, Indistinguishability and Efficiency All Together
Authors: Chao-Yang Lu1, Christian Schneider2, Sven Höfling1,2,3, Jian-Wei Pan1
1CAS Centre for Excellence and Synergetic Innovation Centre in Quantum Information and Quantum Physics, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, China.
2Technische Physik, Physikalisches Institat and Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen-Center for Complex Material Systems, Universitat Wurzburg, Germany.
3SUPA, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of St. Andrews, UK.
One-sentence summary: A single-photon source has been demonstrated which, for the first time, combines the features of high efficiency and near-perfect levels of purity and indistinguishabilty, opening the way to scalable multi-photon experiments on a semiconductor chip.
Spontaneous parametric down conversion has served as an excellent workhorse for fundamental test of quantum mechanics, quantum teleportation and optical quantum computing . In this nonlinear optics process, the emission of photon pairs is probabilistic (with a probability of p) and inevitably accompanied by higher-order emission events (on the order of p2), which strongly limit the scalability for optical quantum information processing. So far, up to eight-photon entanglement—created from four independent photon pairs—have been demonstrated .
In an attempt to overcome this obstacle, increasing attention has turned to single quantum emitters, such as self-assembled semiconductor quantum dots (QD), trapped atoms or ions, single defects in diamond or monolayer, and single molecules. In the past two decades, although many previous proof-of-principle experiments have established photon antibunching — an unambiguous evidence for single-photon emission, a scalable extension to multiple photonic quantum bits remain elusive.
To be useful for multi-photon applications such as Boson sampling, a perfect single quantum emitters should fulfill the following wish list: (1) High quantum efficiency: The decay of excited states should predominantly result in an emitted photon. (2) Deterministic generation: Upon a pulsed excitation, the source should deterministically emit one photon in a push-button fashion. (3) High purity: The emission should have a vanishing multi-photon probability. (4) High indistinguishability: Individual photons emitted at different trials should be quantum mechanically identical to each other. (5) High collection efficiency: The radiated photons should be extracted with a high efficiency to a single spatial mode.
Among the discovered single quantum emitters so far, QDs have the highest quantum efficiency in solid state and narrowest linewidth at cryogenic temperature, and thus are promising as deterministic single-photon emitters. However, despite the extensive efforts, simultaneously fulfilling all the five criteria in the wish list proved challenging. Most previous experiments either relied on non-resonant excitation of a QD-microcavity that degraded the photon purity and indistinguishability [3,4], or used resonant excitation of a QD in a planar cavity that limited the extraction efficiency .
Figure 1: (a) Scanning electron microscopy image of a typical QD micropillar. (b) Numerical simulation of the photon emission from the QD-micropillar. (c) The photons collected into the first lens per pulse versus single-photon purity versus pump power.
Recently, the USTC-Wurzburg joint team exploited s-shell pulsed resonant excitation of a Purcell-enhanced QD-micropillar to deterministically generate resonance fluorescence single photons  which for the first time combines all the features in the wish list. The experiments were performed on an InAs/GaAs QD embedded inside a 2.5 micron diameter micropillar cavity (see Fig.1a) with a quality factor of 6124 and a Purcell factor of 6.3. Great efforts are made to find a single perfect QD at a sweet point where at 7.8 K the QD is to spatially coupled and spectrally resonant to the micropillar. At pi pulse, we detect 3.7 million single photon counts per second. The overall system efﬁciency is 4.6%. After correcting for detection efficiency and optical loss, we estimate that 66% of the generated single photons are collected into the first objective lens. Figure 1c summarizes the combined performance of the efficiency and single-photon purity as a function of pump power. It should be noted that the high generation and extraction efficiency are obtained with little compromise of the single-photon purity (g2(0) ≤ 0.009).
The overall system efficiency 4.6% — the highest reported in QDs — can be improved using techniques such as orthogonal excitation and detection of RF, near-unity-efficiency superconducting nanowire single-photon detection, and antireflection coatings of the optical elements. At this stage already, the performance of the single-photon source is already about ten time brighter than the triggered single-photon source used in eight-photon entanglement, but requires a pump power that is 7 orders of magnitude lower.
Figure 2: Quantum interference between two single photons separated by ~13 ns where the photon polarization set at cross (a) and parallel (b). A zoom-in near the zero time delay is shown in (c).
Another crucial demand is that the photons should possess a high degree of indistinguishability. We note that the pulsed resonant excitation is more critically needed for QDs with large Purcell factors where the reduced radiative lifetime approaches the time jitter. The single photons' indistinguishability is tested using two-photon Hong-Ou-Mandel interference. Figure 2a and 2b show histograms of normalized two-photon counts for orthogonal and parallel polarization at an emission time separation of ~13 ns, respectively. An almost vanishing zero-delay peak is observed for two photons with identical polarization (see Fig. 2c for a zoom-in). We obtain a degrees of indistinguishability to be 0.978.
Such a single-photon source can be readily used to perform multi-photon experiments on a solid-state platform. Immediate applications include implementation of Boson sampling  — an intermediate quantum computation where it is estimated that with 20-30 single photons one can demonstrate complex tasks that is difficult for classical computers. In addition to the photonic applications, the high-efficiency fluorescence extraction would also allow a fast high-fidelity single-shot readout of single electron spins, and efficiently entangling distant QD spins.
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