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Observation of the Stimulated Quantum Cherenkov Effect

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posted on 2023-11-30, 18:53 authored by Saar Nehemia, Raphael Dahan, Michael Shentcis, Ori Reinhardt, Yuval Adiv, Kangpeng Wang, Orr Beer, Yaniv Kurman, Xihang Shi, Morgan H. Lynch, Ido Kaminer
As charged particles surpass the speed of light in an optical medium they produce radiation - analogously to the way jet planes surpass the speed of sound and produce a sonic boom. This radiation emission, known as the Cherenkov effect, is among the most fundamental processes in electrodynamics. As such, it is used in numerous applications of particle detectors, particle accelerators, light sources, and medical imaging. Surprisingly, all Cherenkov-based applications and experiments thus far were fully described by classical electrodynamics even though theoretical work predicts new Cherenkov phenomena coming from quantum electrodynamics. The quantum description could provide new possibilities for the design of highly controllable light sources and more efficient accelerators and detectors. Here, we provide a direct evidence of the quantum nature of the Cherenkov effect and reveal its intrinsic quantum features. By satisfying the Cherenkov condition for relativistic electron wavefunctions and maintaining it over hundreds of microns, each electron simultaneously accelerates and decelerates by absorbing and emitting hundreds of photons in a coherent manner. We observe this strong interaction in an ultrafast transmission electron microscope, achieving for the first time a phase-matching between a relativistic electron wavefunction and a propagating light wave. Consequently, the quantum wavefunction of each electron evolves into a coherent plateau, analogous to a frequency comb in ultrashort laser pulses, containing hundreds of quantized energy peaks. Our findings prove that the delocalized wave nature of electrons can become dominant in stimulated interactions. In addition to prospects for known applications of the Cherenkov effect, our work provides a platform for utilizing quantum electrodynamics for applications in electron microscopy and in free-electron pump-probe spectroscopy.



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