Quantum projection noise: Population fluctuations in two-level systems

Author :W. M. Itano, J. C. Bergquist, J. J. Bollinger, J. M. Gilligan, D. J. Heinzen, F. L. Moore, M. G. Raizen, and D. J. Wineland
Publication :Physical Review A
Volume :47
Number :5
Pages :3554-3570
Year :1993

Measurements of internal energy states of atomic ions confined in traps can be used to illustrate fundamental properties of quantum systems, because long relaxation times and observation times are available. In the experiments described here, a single ion or a few identical ions were prepared in well-defined superpositions of two internal energy eigenstates. The populations of the energy levels were then measured. For an individual ion, the outcome of the measurement is uncertain, unless the amplitude for one of the two eigenstates is zero, and is completely uncertain when the magnitudes of the two amplitudes are equal. In one experiment, a single 199Hg+ ion, confined in a linear rf trap, was prepared in various superpositions of two hyperfine states. In another experiment, groups of 9Be+ ions, ranging in size from about 5 to about 400 ions, were confined in a Penning trap and prepared in various superposition states. The measured population fluctuations were greater when the state amplitudes were equal than when one of the amplitudes was nearly zero, in agreement with the predictions of quantum mechanics. These fluctuations, which we call quantum projection noise, are the fundamental source of noise for population measurements with a fixed number of atoms. These fluctuations are of practical importance, since they contribute to the errors of atomic frequency standards.