We show that metrological resolution in the detection of small phase shifts provides a suitable generalization of the degrees of coherence and polarization. Resolution is estimated via Fisher information. Besides the standard two-beam Gaussian case, this approach provides also good results for multiple field components and nonGaussian statistics. This works equally well in quantum and classical optics.
© 2012 Optical Society of America
Interference and polarization are leading manifestations of coherence [1, 2]. In spite of being a very basic topic the complete relationship between coherence, interference and polarization for arbitrary fields is still an open question and is currently the subject of very active investigation [3–24].
For two electromagnetic fields E1,2 we may say that interference reflects coherence between fields in the same vibration mode, while polarization displays coherence between fields in orthogonal vibration modes. Interference and polarization are easily interchangeable by means of simple energy-preserving transformations, such as phase plates, so that they are not independent field properties.
More specifically, coherence manifests in interference through the modulation of the intensity of the superposition 〈|E1eiϕ1 + E2eiϕ2|2〉, where ϕj are the phases acquired by the waves within the interferometer. This modulation can be conveniently assessed by the fringe visibility21] Eq. (1), implies that 𝒫 is the maximum degree of coherence that can be obtained for a given field state after any deterministic unitary transformation
The standard definitions of the degrees of coherence and polarization in Eqs. (1) and (2) hold provided that three conditions are satisfied: i) we are restricted to two scalar electromagnetic fields, ii) we perform statistical evaluations of second order in the amplitudes, and iii) the fields obey Gaussian statistics. Beyond these three restrictions the standard approach may be undetermined or lack usefulness when applied to more general situations involving either more than two electric fields or nonGaussian statistics, as it is the case of the problems addressed in Refs. [3–33]. A particularly clear example of these limitations is provided by quantum field states reaching maximum resolution in phase-shift detection, since they present vanishing degrees of polarization and coherence μ = 𝒫 = 0 in spite of their interferometric usefulness [22, 32].
In this work we look for a more general approach to coherence that can be applied to any situation with multi-component fields and nonGaussian statistics, including naturally Eqs. (1) and (2) in the particular case of just two electric fields in a thermal-chaotic light state. To this end we focus on the practical application of interference and polarization to the detection of small phase shifts, as the cornerstone of the metrological applications of optics.
The key point is the idea of coherence as equivalent to good interference. This idea emerges after Eq. (1), where coherence is the maximum fringe visibility, as well as after Eq. (4), where visibility reaches its maximum provided that the unitary transformation U is properly chosen. This suggests that the degrees of coherence and polarization indicate the best interference that can be achieved with a suitable preparation of the interference for a given input field state.
Therefore, we will identify the generalized amount of coherence χ of a given field state with the maximum phase-shift resolution after a suitable optimization of the detection arrangement, so that the phase-shift measurement exploits all the interfering capabilities of the field state. Note that this approach can be equally well applied to quantum and classical fields.
The resolution can be properly assessed by means of the Fisher information entering in the Cramér-Rao lower bound for the uncertainty of phase-shift estimators [34,35]. It is worth pointing out that the Fisher information has been extensively used to provide original analyses and interpretations of many different problems in science, from the formation of basic physical laws, to biology and financial economy, for example [36, 37].
2. Fisher information and detection of small phase shifts
2.1. Phase shifts and phase-shift detection
By phase shifts we will understand linear, energy-preserving, unitary transformations of the complex amplitudes E of an arbitrary number k of complex electric fields, E → UϕE, where Uϕ is a k × k unitary matrix. In general terms we may express Uϕ as Uϕ = exp(iϕG), where ϕ is the phase shift, and G an Hermitian k × k matrix G† = G.
In quantum optics the amplitudes E become complex-amplitude operators a, with [ai, ] = δi,j and [ai, aj] = 0. The phase-shift transformation reads a → Uϕa = T†aT, with T = exp(iϕĜ) and Ĝ = a†Ga .
Both in classical and quantum optics the objective is to infer the value of the unknown phase shift ϕ from measurements performed on the transformed electric fields UϕE. Let us call P(θ|ϕ) the statistics of the measurement outcomes θ when the true value of the phase shift is ϕ. From a Bayesian perspective P(θ|ϕ) defines a posteriori probability distribution P(ϕ̃|θ) for the inferred value of the signal ϕ̃ depending on the N outcomes θ obtained after N repetitions of the measurement. This is of the form
2.2. Fisher information
A convenient assessment of the uncertainty Δϕ on the value of ϕ after the measurement is the Fisher information F entering in the Cramér-Rao lower bound34]. After a large enough number of repetitions, 1/(NF) becomes the width of P(ϕ̃|ϕ) as a function of ϕ̃ since P(ϕ̃|ϕ) ∝ exp[−NF(ϕ̃ − ϕ)2/2], which is consistent with the above mentioned asymptotic efficiency.
Besides, the Fisher information is also the approximate form of several distances, or divergences [39, 40], between the statistics associated with two close enough phase shifts ϕ and ϕ + δϕ, such as the Hellinger distance,29–31, 41, 42].
2.3. Generalized measure of coherence
In general, F depends on the light state, on the generator G, on the measurement performed, and also on ϕ. Following the idea of coherence as optimum visibility, we will consider that the measurement performed extracts from the transformed fields UϕE the maximum information possible about ϕ. Throughout we assume ϕ → 0 since precision metrology is always interested in the detection of small phase shifts, which can be, without loss of generality, brought back around a zero phase-shift value. Nevertheless, there would be no fundamental difficulty to apply this approach beyond precision metrology to large phase shifts, maybe with the drawback of lacking simple expressions and obtaining different conclusions depending on the particular values of ϕ considered.
The larger F the lesser the uncertainty and the larger the resolution so we may say that larger F means larger coherence. Since F is not bounded from above, ∞ ≥ F ≥ 0, it might be convenient to normalize it, so we may introduced a generalized assessment of coherence χ comprised between 0 and 1 in the formEq. (21) below]. The dependence on G means essentially that the usefulness of interference fringes depends on whether the phase-shift transformation exploits all the interfering capabilities of the light state. A coherence assessment depending just on the field state can be obtained as the maximum of χ when G is varied. This might be regarded as the generalization of the degree of polarization as the ultimate measure of coherence in accordance with the standard result for two electric fields and Gaussian statistics recalled in the introduction.
Quantum and classical statistics differ in very fundamental issues, such as the uncertainty relation for example. Thus, at this point the analysis must be split into classical and quantum channels, although we will see that they largely run parallel.
3. Classical sector
In classical optics every measurement statistics P(θ|ϕ) can be derived as a marginal distribution of the probability distribution for the transformed amplitudes , where W(E) is the probability distribution for the complex amplitudes in the field state before the signal-dependent transformation Uϕ. More specifically, taking into account that any measured observable is a function of the complex amplitudes θ(E) we have
After Eqs. (11) and (12) we have that any measurement statistics P(θ|ϕ) is extracted as a marginal distribution from the complete distribution . Therefore, contains no less information than any P(θ|ϕ), so that (see Appendix A)
3.1. Thermal-chaotic light
A fundamental example is provided by the coherence between two electric fields in a thermal-chaotic light state. This allows us to check the compatibility of this approach with the standard definition. Thermal-chaotic light is fully characterized by second-order moments of the field amplitudes asAppendix B)
The dependence on G reflects the fact that for a given field state the usefulness of the interference depends on the particular interferometric arrangement considered and whether it exploits the capabilities of the incoming light state. To exploit all the coherence conveyed by the field state we have to look for the maximum of FC by varying G. To this end we particularize the above expressions to the field basis where M is diagonal, leading toEq. (14) Eqs. (17) and (19) is reached when G just mixes the two electric fields with the maximum degree of polarization.
The upperbound in Eq. (19) agrees with previous results showing that the maximum visibility in the interference of two partially polarized transversal waves is reached by combining just the two components with the largest degree of polarization . The bound in Eq. (17) reproduces also basic results of classical metrology: i) the resolution increases without limit as 𝒫max → 1, and ii) resolution is independent of the total field intensity. We will see below that these two properties no longer hold in the quantum sector.
3.1.1. Interference between two scalar fields
Let us particularize this result to the standard case with two electric fields k = 2Eqs. (10) and (16) we obtain Eq. (1).
3.1.2. Interference between two partially polarized fields
Let us consider the interference between two partially polarized fields in schemes of the Young type. This is k = 4 and10] to represent the coherence between two partially polarized waves independently of their polarization states.
Applying Eq. (16) to this case and taking into account that and U†GU = G we getEq. (21). On the other hand FC diverges when μS → 1. All this is fully consistent with the properties of μS,I as measures of coherence between two partially polarized waves [43, 44].
3.2. Fields with vanishing second-order degrees of coherence and polarization
The above equivalences in Eqs. (21) and (26) between resolution and the standard degree of coherence apply just to two fields in a thermal-chaotic light state, but fails to be true in general for other more sophisticated field statistics, as already shown in Ref. .
This is the case of field states whose probability distribution for the field amplitudes is an even function of any of the amplitudes, say W(−E1, E2) = W(E1, E2), since Eq. (1) leads automatically to μ = 0 irrespectively of any other statistical properties of the field state. Some examples are provided by most of the quantum field states reaching maximum phase-shift resolution that have , for all i, j, where C is a constant  leading to μ = 𝒫 = 0. This includes the so-called N00N states  that are examined in more detail in the quantum sector.
4. Quantum sector
In the quantum sector the upper bound FC in Eq. (13) cannot be defined because there is no proper probability distribution W(E) providing observable statistics via marginals. Actually, this is the distinctive feature of nonclassical light [1, 46].
Nevertheless, it is possible to find an upper bound to F in terms of the so-called quantum Fisher information FQ ,Eq. (27) the sum is extended to all pairs i, j with pi + pj ≠ 0. When the field state is pure, i. e., ρ = |ψ〉 〈ψ| we have that Eq. (27) greatly simplifies becoming the variance of the generator Ĝ in the field state |ψ〉 Eq. (13). Accordingly, a suitable estimation of the degree of coherence conveyed by the field state under phase shifts generated by Ĝ in the quantum sector is
4.1. Thermal-chaotic light
In order to compare the classical and quantum sectors with a meaningful example let us consider quantum thermal-chaotic light. In the mode basis where the correlation matrix is diagonal the field state factorizes , with 
In order to check compatibility with the classical sector as simply and clearly as possible let us consider the two-field case k = 2. By symmetry, any generator of the form is optimum for any φ, leading to a maximum Fisher information (see Appendix C)Eq. (2), and n̄ is the total mean number of photons: Eq. (17) is obtained in the limit n̄ → ∞, as it should be expected. On the other hand, for 𝒫 → 1 we have that: i) the Fisher information does not diverge, contrary to the equivalent situation in the classical sector, but remains always finite, and ii) the Fisher information depends on the field intensity, so that for 𝒫 = 1 it holds that FQ = 2tr(G2)n̄. Actually, the scaling FQ ∝ n̄ is known as the standard quantum limit, which is the largest Fisher information that can be reached with classical light in quantum optics [47,48]. This may be compared with the scaling FQ ∝ n̄2 obtained for suitable nonclassical light, such as N00N states, as shown next in more detail.
4.2. N00N state
In the photon-number basis, the N00N states are
To show this we note that the maximum quantum Fisher information holds for leading to FQ = 2tr(G2)n̄2, where n̄ = n is the total mean number of photons . The scaling FQ ∝ n̄2 is known as Heisenberg limit, that clearly surpasses the scaling FQ ∝ n̄ that can be obtained with classical light .
The optimum Fisher information can be approached via ideal phase measurement whose statistics is given by projection on the relative-phase states 
The relative phase states emerge from a polar decomposition of the product of complex amplitudes into a product of amplitude modulus and exponential of the phase difference. This problem has unitary solution for the exponential of the relative phase at difference with the equivalent single-mode polar decompositions .
It is worth noting that the total number n and the relative phase ϕ are commuting observables as the phase-number counterpart of commutation between total momentum and relative position for two particles [p1 + p2, x1 − x2] = 0 since, roughly speaking, we may say that n = n1 + n2 and ϕ = ϕ1 − ϕ2, where n1,2 and ϕ1,2 are the corresponding variables in the respective field mode. This does not contradict that single-mode number and phase do not commute, [nj, ϕj] ≠ = 0.
The classic degrees of coherence and polarization may admit different legitimate generalizations focusing on different field properties. For example, the metrological-based approach presented here is naturally different from global assessments of coherence and polarization in terms of distances of the light state to fully incoherent or unpolarized light [25–28, 51]. This is also different from the degree of polarization in Ref.  defined in terms of the minimum overlap between the original and transformed field state under any SU(2) transformation. In this work we are considering exclusively infinitesimal transformations in the spirit of precision metrology, while typically minimum overlap is obtained for large phase shifts.
We have checked the consistency of this approach in the case of thermal light and N00N states. We think that there will be no consistency problems in any situation with multi-component fields and nonGasussian statistics because of the practical nature of this formalism and its focus on the observables consequences of coherence.
A. Upper bound to Fisher information in classical optics
In this Appendix we demonstrate the upper bound for Fisher information in classical optics in Eq. (13). To simplify notation let us consider discrete indices instead of continuous variables so that the measured statistics Pj of the j variable can be expressed in terms of the joint statistics of the j and k variables Wj,k as
As a further alternative demonstration let us show that the Hellinger distance in Eq. (7) HP between the probability distributions Pj = Pj(ϕ) and P̃j = P̃j(ϕ + δϕ) is smaller than the Hellinger distance HW between Wj,k = Wj,k(ϕ) and W̃j,k = W̃j,k(ϕ + δϕ)Eqs. (43) and (44) because for all a, b ≥ 0. Finally this implies HP ≤ HW and thus F ≤ FC after Eq. (7).
B. Fisher information for classical thermal-chaotic lightEq. (13) leads to 1] Eq. (27). We finally get Eq. (53) is reached when G mixes just the electric fields with the maximum and minimum intensities.
C. Quantum Fisher information for thermal-chaotic light
Since the thermal-chaotic states in Eq. (31) are mixed we have to resort to Eq. (27) to compute its quantum Fisher information. Since the product of number states |n1〉 |n2〉 are the eigenstates of ρ, for we have to computeEq. (2) 𝒫 = |n̄1 − n̄2|/(n̄1 + n̄2) where we have taken into account that for the thermal state in Eq. (31) , so that
This work has been supported by Project No. FIS2008-01267 of the Spanish Dirección General de Investigación del Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación, and from Project QUITEMAD S2009-ESP-1594 of the Consejería de Educación de la Comunidad de Madrid. I thank the anonymous reviewers for one of the demonstrations in Appendix A and other useful suggestions.
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