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Endres, Manuel (2013): Probing correlated quantum many-body systems at the single-particle level. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Physics



The detection of correlation and response functions plays a crucial role in the experimental characterization of quantum many-body systems. In this thesis, we present novel techniques for the measurement of such functions at the single-particle level. Specifically, we show the single-atom- and single-site-resolved detection of an ultracold quantum gas in an optical lattice. The quantum gas is described by the Bose-Hubbard model, which features a zero temperature phase transition from a superfluid to a Mott-insulating state, a paradigm example of a quantum phase transition. We used the aforementioned detection techniques to study correlation and response properties across the superfluid-Mott-insulator transition. The single-atom sensitivity of our method is achieved by fluorescence detection of individual atoms with a high signal-to-noise ratio. A high-resolution objective collects the fluorescence light and yields in situ `snapshots' of the quantum gas that allow for a single-site-resolved reconstruction of the atomic distribution. This allowed us to measure two-site and non-local correlation-functions across the superfluid-Mott-insulator transition. Non-local correlation functions are based on the information of an extended region of the system and play an important role for the characterization of low-dimensional quantum phases. While non-local correlation functions were so far only theoretical tools, our results show that they are actually experimentally accessible. Furthermore, we used a new thermometry scheme, based on the counting of individual thermal excitations, to measure the response of the system to lattice modulation. Using this method, we studied the excitation spectrum of the system across the two-dimensional superfluid-Mott-insulator transition. In particular, we detected a `Higgs' amplitude mode in the strongly-interacting superfluid close to the transition point where the system is described by an effectively Lorentz-invariant low-energy theory. Our experimental results helped to resolve a debate about the observability of Higgs modes in two-dimensional systems.