Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2014
Detecting quantum coherence
Observing quantum coherence is a tricky business. Even before we fire up the femtosecond laser systems and start our search, we need to ask ourselves some basic questions: What is coherence? How does coherence manifest in measurements? What methods can we use to detect and measure coherence? Only then, can we begin to interpret data to search for coherence and to try to make sense of the observed signals. In this section, I will discuss detecting quantum coherence both in theory and in practice. The goal of this section is to present a unified view of experimental approaches in broad strokes and to provide useful references to guide further exploration.
What is ‘quantum coherence’?
Firstly, the precise meaning of ‘quantum coherence’ must be pinned down. I define quantum coherences to be off-diagonal elements of the density matrix representing the ensemble. (I am explicitly setting aside questions of ‘quantum’ versus ‘classical’ coherences; let us simply assume that the system in question is best described quantum mechanically and presume that the coherences in such a system are also quantum in nature. The simple fact is that we don't yet have the tools to answer this debate definitively.) This definition, however, is still insufficient. The density matrix and the magnitudes of its off-diagonal elements in particular depend on the basis set used to write down the matrix. For the purposes of this chapter, I will consider the density matrix only in the Hamiltonian eigenbasis.