Research ArticleOPTICS

The coherence of light is fundamentally tied to the quantum coherence of the emitting particle

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Science Advances  30 Apr 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 18, eabf8096
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf8096


Coherent emission of light by free charged particles is believed to be successfully captured by classical electromagnetism in all experimental settings. However, recent advances triggered fundamental questions regarding the role of the particle wave function in these processes. Here, we find that even in seemingly classical experimental regimes, light emission is fundamentally tied to the quantum coherence and correlations of the emitting particle. We use quantum electrodynamics to show how the particle’s momentum uncertainty determines the optical coherence of the emitted light. We find that the temporal duration of Cherenkov radiation, envisioned for almost a century as a shock wave of light, is limited by underlying entanglement between the particle and light. Our findings enable new capabilities in electron microscopy for measuring quantum correlations of shaped electrons. Last, we propose new Cherenkov detection schemes, whereby measuring spectral photon autocorrelations can unveil the wave function structure of any charged high-energy particle.

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