Uncertainty in Determining the Phase for an Optical Field Due to the Particle Nature of Light

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1175-1181
Journal / PublicationLaser Physics
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2003
Externally publishedYes


When any two optical fields are superposed, a fringe pattern will be formed if the observation interval is short enough (within the coherent time) and a phase value may be extracted from the fringe and assigned as the phase difference between the fields. When measured against a common reference field, phase can be defined for an optical field. However, when the intensities of the optical fields are low or the observation time is so short that only a few photons are detected, the fringe pattern is unrecognizable due to the particle nature of light. By analyzing the fringe patterns simulated by a quantum Monte Carlo method, we find that there exist uncertainties in determining the phase value. This uncertainty is universal for any optical field with a finite photon number and decreases to zero as the photon number of the field increases to infinity or the classical limit is approached. The existence of this uncertainty in determining the phase value makes it problematic to define a quantum mechanical phase. An interference experiment with coherent state is performed to confirm the theoretical predictions. The implication of the above is that phase is a classical quantity that is associated with a large number of particles and may not have a quantum mechanical analogy.

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