Ultra-sensitive atom imaging for matter-wave optics
Quantum degenerate Fermi gases and Bose–Einstein condensates give access to a vast new class of quantum states. The resulting multi-particle correlations place extreme demands on the detection schemes. Here we introduce diffractive dark-ground imaging as a novel ultra-sensitive imaging technique. Using only moderate detection optics, we image clouds of less than 30 atoms with near-atom shot-noise-limited signal-to-noise ratio and show Stern–Gerlach separated spinor condensates with a minority component of only seven atoms. This presents an improvement of more than one order of magnitude when compared to our standard absorption imaging. We also examine the optimal conditions for absorption imaging, including saturation and fluorescence contributions. Finally, we discuss potentially serious imaging errors of small atom clouds whose size is near the resolution of the optics.