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A primary radiation standard based on quantum nonlinear optics

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529–532
Number of pages4
JournalNature Physics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


The black body remains the most prominent source of light for absolute radiometry1. Its main alternative, synchrotron radiation, requires costly and large facilities2. Quantum optics offers a new radiometric source: parametric down-conversion (PDC), a nonlinear optical process, in which pairwise photon correlations enable absolute calibration of photodetectors3,4,5,6. Since the emission rate crucially depends on the brightness of the electromagnetic field, quantum-mechanical fluctuations of the vacuum7 can be seen as a seed of spontaneous PDC, and their amplitude is a natural radiometric standard. Thus, they allow for the calibration of the spectral radiance of light sources8,9,10,11 by measuring the ratio between seeded and unseeded PDC. Here, we directly use the frequency spectrum of the electromagnetic vacuum to trigger spontaneous PDC and employ the generated light to infer the spectral response of a spectrometer over a broad spectral range. Then, we deduce the absolute quantum efficiency from the spectral shape of PDC in the high-gain regime, without relying on a seed or reference detector. Our results compare well with the ones obtained with a reference lamp, demonstrating a promising primary radiation standard.