Pulsed lasers are intense and coherent light sources, and the latest category is that of Free Electron Lasers, such as FERMI. First order coherence is a familiar phenomenon, and is manifested for example in diffraction phenomena. This represents the correlation between the amplitudesof a wave at different points in space (transverse coherence) or time (longitudinal coherence.) However, a high degree of first order coherence is not enough to define a laser, according to the Nobel laureate Roy Glauber, who stated that a laser can be defined as a source that is coherent in all orders. The higher order correlations are between intensityat different points in time and space. How are these correlations measured? For this one has to look at the statistics of the photons.
Glauber’s work was inspired by the famous Hanbury Brown and Twiss experiment, in which coincidences of photons (i.e. correlations) were measured of photons coming from distant stars. By varying the distance between two detectors, they were able to determine the degree of coherence of the star, and extract other information. This is the key to measuring the second order coherence of a light source: the intensity of light at different points is measured in coincidence, and statistical analysis is made. This experiment is considered by many as initiating the whole field of quantum optics. Now a team led by Ivan Vartaniants (DESY, Hamburg, and the National Research Nuclear University, Moscow) has performed a Hanbury Brown and Twiss experiment at FERMI. Instead of the two discrete photodetectors used originally, a CCD detector was used. Since all of the photons arrive in less than 100 fs, there is no need to use coincidence methods: the signal is naturally synchronised.
Figure 1. Difference between chaotic and coherent light sources. (a) photon correlation map for FERMI operated in seeded mode. (b) corresponding spectrum. (c) correlation map for FERMI operated in Self Amplified Stimulated Emission mode (the mode of operation of most Free Electron Lasers). (d) corresponding spectrum.
Credit: Reprinted from O. Yu. Gorobtsov et al, Nature Communications 9 (2018) 4498. (Copyright Nature Publishing Group)