1 Aarhus University2 Department of Physics and Astronomy, Science and Technology, Aarhus University3 University of Geneva4 Department of Physics and Astronomy, Science and Technology, Aarhus University
The ability to detect single photons with a high efficiency is a crucial requirement for various quantum information applications. By combining the storage process of a quantum memory for photons with fluorescence-based quantum state measurement, it is, in principle, possible to achieve high-efficiency photon counting in large ensembles of atoms. The large number of atoms can, however, pose significant problems in terms of noise stemming from imperfect initial state preparation and off-resonant fluorescence. We identify and analyse a concrete implementation of a photon number resolving detector based on an ion Coulomb crystal inside a moderately high-finesse optical cavity. The cavity enhancement leads to an effective optical depth of 15 for a finesse of 3000 with only about 1500 ions interacting with the light field. We show that these values allow for essentially noiseless detection with an efficiency larger than 93%. Moderate experimental parameters allow for repetition rates of about 3 kHz, limited by the time needed for fluorescence collection and re-cooling of the ions between trials. Our analysis may lead to the first implementation of a photon number resolving detector in atomic ensembles.