# Macroscopic quantum jumps in a single atom

## Abstract

A single-atom optical clock proposed over ten years ago utilizes an amplification scheme which only recently was recognized as a novel problem in quantum statistics. The atom, a three-state system, has two coupled transitions that are driven continuously by two external fields, one being an allowed transition (13) and the other a forbidden transition (23) where -3 is the lowest state. It has been argued that the weak transition, which is difficult to detect, could be monitored by the presence or absence of spontaneous emission of the strong transition. Thus, when the atom is shelved in the metastable state -2, the strong transition is extinguished, but when the atom executes a single quantum jump (2→3), it triggers a succession of perhaps a million quantum jumps (macroscopic quantum jumps) in the strong transition, an amplification that can be detected easily. This intuitive argument for alternating bright and dark intervals assumes, however, that the atom is always in an eigenstate. Should the atom be in a superposition state, because of coherent excitation, one could imagine that the weak transition would merely reduce the intensity of the strong transition slightly. This issue is resolved, in favor of the first intuitive argument, by calculating the photon-counting statistics, the probability W(n,T) of observing precisely n photon-counting events in a collection T in a quantum-mechanically consistent way. The results cannot be described by classical statistics. A compact analytic form is obtained for W(n,T) by considering the entire hierarchy of correlation functions where the emission interval peaks sharply about a particular n with a Poisson distribution and can be comparable in length to the darkness interval (n=0) while the other values of n display vanishingly small probabilities. © 1986 The American Physical Society.