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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: August 2012

6 - Interaction of an atom with the quantized electromagnetic field


In this chapter, we discuss a purely quantum approach to the interaction between an atom and the electromagnetic field. In this treatment, the atom and electromagnetic field form a single quantum system, whose evolution is handled globally within a unified formalism. This will thus have the merit of being fully consistent from the theoretical standpoint. But the main advantage in an entirely quantum approach is that it can treat the full range of matter–radiation interaction phenomena. In particular, it provides a rigorous description of the spontaneous emission of light by an excited atom, something that falls outside the scope of the semi-classical framework applied in Chapters 2 and 3, where the lifetime of an excited atomic state had to be fed in phenomenologically. It can describe other phenomena of the same type, such as parametric fluorescence by a nonlinear crystal subjected to pumping radiation (see Chapter 7), which underlies many recent developments in quantum optics. The fully quantum approach also has the merit of allowing a simple interpretation in terms of photons for the various matter–radiation interaction processes, such as absorption, stimulated emission, scattering, and also the basic processes of nonlinear optics. Indeed, it provides a unified framework for both stimulated and spontaneous processes. Finally, it can be used to tackle completely new situations where matter and radiation interact, which lie outside the scope of any semi-classical description, such as cavity quantum electrodynamics or the production of single-photon or entangled-photons states.