Tensor polarizability and dispersive quantum measurement of multilevel atoms
Optimally extracting information from measurements performed on a physical system requires an accurate model of the measurement interaction. Continuously probing the collective spin of an alkali-metal atom cloud via its interaction with an off-resonant optical probe is an important example of such a measurement where realistic modeling at the quantum level is possible using standard techniques from atomic physics. Typically, however, tutorial descriptions of this technique have neglected the multilevel structure of realistic atoms for the sake of simplification. We account for the full multilevel structure of alkali-metal atoms and derive the irreducible form of the polarizability Hamiltonian describing a typical dispersive quantum measurement. For a specific set of parameters, we then show that semiclassical predictions of the theory are consistent with our experimental observations of polarization scattering by a polarized cloud of laser-cooled cesium atoms. We also derive the signal-to-noise ratio under a single-measurement trial and use this to predict the rate of spin squeezing with multilevel alkali-metal atoms for arbitrary detuning of the probe beam.