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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

14 - Quantum optics and lasers


This book is intended to explain the physical basis of classical optics and to introduce the reader to a variety of wave phenomena and their applications. However, it was discovered at the end of the nineteenth century that the description of light in terms of Maxwell's classical electromagnetic waves was incomplete, and the notion of quantization had to be added. Since then, in parallel to the development of wave optics, there has been an explosive growth of quantum optics, much of it fuelled by the invention of the laser at the end of the 1950s, which also provided a great incentive to reconsider many topics of classical optics, such as interference and coherence theory. It would be inappropriate that this book should ignore these developments; on the other hand, the subject of quantum optics is now so wide that a single chapter can do no justice to the field. In this chapter, we therefore set out modestly to explain the way in which quantum optics is different from classical optics, and give a qualitative introduction to lasers, followed by a taste of some of the new phenomena that have developed in recent years and are currently at the forefront of optics research.

In this chapter we shall discuss:

how the electromagnetic field can be quantized, by creating an analogy between an electromagnetic wave and a simple harmonic oscillator;

the concept of the photon, and some of its properties;