The earliest studies on the subject of spontaneous emission from an excited atom via interaction with the vacuum modes of the radiation field go back to the early days of quantum mechanics. In view of the fundamental nature of the vacuum fluctuations, it was long thought that spontaneous emission could not be controlled. However, in 1946 Purcell noted that the spontaneous emission rate of the atom inside a resonant cavity can be substantially enhanced (or suppressed) over its free-space value. This is due to the dramatic change of the density of modes of the vacuum field in a cavity. The enhancement and suppression of spontaneous emission in resonant and off-resonant cavities were observed experimentally in the 1980s.
It was also realized in the 1950s and 1960s that coherent driving fields can dramatically change the characteristics of the spontaneous emission. The Autler-Townes doublet and Mollow three-peak spectrum are the examples of such behavior. A dramatic narrowing of the spectral peaks were discovered in driven multilevel atomic systems in the early 1990s.
The role of atomic coherence in quenching spontaneous emission fluctuations in the context of laser physics was studied in the 1980s, via the correlated spontaneous emission laser (CEL). In this case atomic coherence results in the correlation of two spontaneous emission noise events so that the spontaneous emission quantum noise is eliminated in the relative linewidth.
Later, it was “discovered” that the spontaneous emission can be suppressed through quantum interference between decay channels. Properly stated, this was rediscovered since it was first discovered and explained by Lamb in the 1940s. If the dipoles of two transitions from one upper level to two lower levels are parallel, the spontaneous emission in an ordinary vacuum can be cancelled. In a nonuniform vacuum, e.g., a cavity, the quenching of spontaneous emission can be achieved, even for the orthogonal dipoles.
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