Measuring the polarization of electromagnetic fields using Rabi-rate measurements with spatial resolution: Experiment and theory

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J. Koepsell, T. Thiele, J. Deiglmayr, A. Wallraff, and F. Merkt


Phys. Rev. A 95, 053860

When internal states of atoms are manipulated using coherent optical or radio-frequency (rf) radiation, it is essential to know the polarization of the radiation with respect to the quantization axis of the atom. We first present a measurement of the two-dimensional spatial distribution of the electric-field amplitude of a linearly polarized pulsed rf electric field at 25.6GHz and its angle with respect to a static electric field. The measurements exploit coherent population transfer between the 35s and 35p Rydberg states of helium atoms in a pulsed supersonic beam. Based on this experimental result, we develop a general framework in the form of a set of equations relating the five independent polarization parameters of a coherently oscillating field in a fixed laboratory frame to Rabi rates of transitions between a ground and three excited states of an atom with arbitrary quantization axis. We then explain how these equations can be used to fully characterize the polarization in a minimum of five Rabi-rate measurements by rotation of an external bias field, or, knowing the polarization of the driving field, to determine the orientation of the static field using two measurements. The presented technique is not limited to Rydberg atoms and rf fields but can also be applied to characterize optical fields. The technique has the potential for sensing the spatiotemporal properties of electromagnetic fields, e.g., in metrology devices or in hybrid experiments involving atoms close to surfaces