A subwavelength atomic array switched by a single Rydberg atom

Nature Physics (2023)

February 22, 2023

Enhancing light–matter coupling at the level of single quanta is essential for numerous applications in quantum science. The cooperative optical response of subwavelength atomic arrays has been found to open new pathways for such strong light–matter couplings, while simultaneously offering access to multiple spatial modes of the light field. Efficient single-mode free-space coupling to such arrays has been reported, but spatial control over the modes of outgoing light fields has remained elusive. Here, we demonstrate such spatial control over the optical response of an atomically thin mirror formed by a subwavelength array of atoms in free space using a single controlled ancilla atom excited to a Rydberg state. The switching behaviour is controlled by the admixture of a small Rydberg fraction to the atomic mirror, and consequently strong dipolar Rydberg interactions with the ancilla. Driving Rabi oscillations on the ancilla atom, we demonstrate coherent control of the transmission and reflection of the array. These results represent a step towards the realization of quantum coherent metasurfaces, the demonstration of controlled atom–photon entanglement and deterministic engineering of quantum states of light.

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