Concept

Optical microcavity

Summary
An optical microcavity or microresonator is a structure formed by reflecting faces on the two sides of a spacer layer or optical medium, or by wrapping a waveguide in a circular fashion to form a ring. The former type is a standing wave cavity, and the latter is a traveling wave cavity. The name microcavity stems from the fact that it is often only a few micrometers thick, the spacer layer sometimes even in the nanometer range. As with common lasers, this forms an optical cavity or optical resonator, allowing a standing wave to form inside the spacer layer or a traveling wave that goes around in the ring. The fundamental difference between a conventional optical cavity and microcavities is the effects that arise from the small dimensions of the system, but their operational principle can often be understood in the same way as for larger optical resonators. Quantum effects of the light's electromagnetic field can be observed. For example, the spontaneous emission rate and behaviour of atoms is altered by such a microcavity, a phenomenon that is referred to as inhibited spontaneous emission. One can imagine this as the situation that no photon is emitted, if the environment is a box that is too small to hold it. This leads to an altered emission spectrum, which is significantly narrowed. Moreover, nonlinear effects are enhanced by orders of magnitude due to the strong light confinement, leading to the generation of microresonator frequency combs, low-power parametric processes such as down-conversion, second-harmonic generation, four-wave mixing and optical parametric oscillation. Several of these nonlinear processes themselves lead to the generation of quantum states of light. Another field that harnesses the strong confinement of light is cavity optomechanics, where the back-and-forth interaction of the light beam with the mechanical motion of the resonator becomes strongly coupled. Even in this field, quantum effects can start playing a role.
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