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  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: June 2012

6 - Atom–field interaction – quantum theory


In the preceding chapters concerning the interaction of a radiation field with matter, we assumed the field to be classical. In many situations this assumption is valid. There are, however, many instances where a classical field fails to explain experimentally observed results and a quantized description of the field is required. This is, for example, true of spontaneous emission in an atomic system which was described phenomenologically in Chapter 5. For a rigorous treatment of the atomic level decay in free space, we need to consider the interaction of the atom with the vacuum modes of the universe. Even in the simplest system involving the interaction of a single-mode radiation field with a single two-level atom, the predictions for the dynamics of the atom are quite different in the semiclassical theory and the fully quantum theory. In the absence of the decay process, the semiclassical theory predicts Rabi oscillations for the atomic inversion whereas the quantum theory predicts certain collapse and revival phenomena due to the quantum aspects of the field. These interesting quantum field theoretical predictions have been experimentally verified.

In this chapter we discuss the interaction of the quantized radiation field with the two-level atomic system described by a Hamiltonian in the dipole and the rotating-wave approximations. For a single-mode field it reduces to a particularly simple form. This is a very interesting Hamiltonian in quantum optics for several reasons. First, it can be solved exactly for arbitrary coupling constants and exhibits some true quantum dynamical effects such as collapse followed by periodic revivals of the atomic inversion.