Matter-matter entanglement at a distance: First, a laser pulse stimulates the single atom to emit a single photon. In this process, internal degrees of freedom of the atom are coupled to the polarisation of the photon, so that both particles become entangled. The photon is transported through a 30 m long optical fibre into a neighbouring laboratory where it is directed to the BEC. There, it is absorbed by the whole ensemble. This process converts the photon into a collective excitation of the BEC. “The exchange of quantum information between photons and atomic quantum systems requires a strong light-matter interaction”, explains Matthias Lettner, a doctoral student working on the experiment. “For the single atom, we achieve this by multiple reflections between the two resonator mirrors, whereas for the BEC the light-matter interaction is enhanced by the large number of atoms.”
In a subsequent step, the physicists prove that the single atom and the BEC are really entangled. To this end, the photon absorbed in the BEC is retrieved with the help of a laser pulse and the state of the single atom is read out by generating a second photon.