Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have constructed a quantum-mechanical state in which the colors of three photons are entangled with each other. The state is a special combination, called a W state, that retains some entanglement even if one of the three photons is lost, which makes it useful for quantum communication. Such entangled states also enable novel quantum applications and tests of fundamental physics.

The uniqueness of this work is that the researchers used color, or the energy of the photons, as the entangling degree of freedom, while previous work used polarization. The energy of a photon cannot be easily changed, which reduces the possibility of errors when the energy-entangled W state is propagating over a long distance. The state was verified for the first time by measuring information about the two-photon sub-systems. Their findings are published in Physical Review Letters.

“People have created polarization-entangled W states before,” noted Bin Fang, the graduate student on the project. “However, this is the first discrete energy-entangled W state and the first three-photon entangled state created in optical fiber.”

To create the state, the researchers shine a laser into a glass fiber. Through a process called spontaneous four-wave mixing, four laser photons interact with the fiber and are annihilated to create two pairs of photons at different colors (for example, two pairs of red and green photons). These four photons are used to construct the 3-photon W state. One of them is detected to be green, leaving the other three entangled as a W state, which is comprised of all possible iterations of two red photons and a green photon at once.

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