Links Coherence experiments with thermal light sources           


the Hanbury Brown and Twiss experiment 


Nigel's
memories


Hanbury Brown famously measured the correlation between the intensities at two different points in the field produced by a small source of light.

Nigel Haig as a PhD student in Edinburgh built apparatus to perform a similar task, but the field under investigation was that from a pair of small uncorrelated sources of quasi-moonochromatic 'thermal' light.  No visible interference effects could be observed, but some evidence for a spatial modulation in the mutual coherence pattern was found.
The theoretical mutual coherence of the radiation at the two photodetectors was computed for various separations, the solid line in the figure.  Zero separation (position 1) corresponds to overlap of either detector with the image of the other produced by the beam-splitting mirror.
Photomultiplier tubes were used as detectors, and coincidences between their output pulses were counted, both for prompt coincidences and with a 15 ns delay cable in one channel.  With the delay, which was about 30 times the coherence time of the light, coincidences occurred at random.  Any statistically significant excess of 'prompt' counts over 'delayed' counts is a measure of the correlation.    
Counting in each case was continued for many hours (or days) at each of the three positions indicated above the graph, recording about 20,000 coincidences on each occasion.  Continuation of counting beyond this time yielded no improvement in the reliability of the results because of thermal variations in the performance of the electronic apparatus, despite the use of room thermostats and local lagging.

Table 1
Position 
Detector
separation (cm) 
ri (calc) 
ri (exp) 
Significance
level 
 
1
0
0.046
0.0160.014
75%
2
0.085
0
0
 
3
0.170
0.012
0.0090.014
48%


N D Haig and R M Sillitto, An interference experiment with two independent thermal light sources, Physics Letters 28A 463-464, (1968)



map

In the early 1970s, the department moved, in several stages, from Drummond Street to the newly-built James Clerk Maxwell Building (architect, Hardie Glover, of Basil Spence & Partners) on the King's Buildings campus, two miles to the south.

Some of Nigel's apparatus was re-assembled there, with better photomultipliers and faster electronics which recorded the random and the correlated coincidences simultaneously.  Again, counting periods of many hours were required before the number of 'prompt' counts clearly exceeded the variations in the 'delayed' counts.
Joan's
memories
Joan McMillan optimized the process, and produced graphs for both green and blue light:


Normalized second-order correlation r versus detector separation.
l=546.1nm : smooth curve and diamond symbols
l=435.8 nm : dotted curve and square symbols



Joan L McMillan, R M Sillitto and Winifred Sillitto, Second-order coherence effects due to the superposition of two independent thermal light beams, Optica Acta 26 1125-1128 (1979)

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