© 2015 American Physical Society. The unknown temperature of a sample can be estimated with minimal disturbance by putting it in thermal contact with an individual quantum probe. If the interaction time is sufficiently long so that the probe thermalizes, the temperature can be read-out directly from its steady state. Here we prove that the optimal quantum probe, acting as a thermometer with maximal thermal sensitivity, is an effective two-level atom with a maximally degenerate excited state. When the total interaction time is insufficient to produce full thermalization, we optimize the estimation protocol by breaking it down into sequential stages of probe preparation, thermal contact, and measurement. We observe that frequently interrogated probes initialized in the ground state achieve the best performance. For both fully and partly thermalized thermometers, the sensitivity grows significantly with the number of levels, though optimization over their energy spectrum remains always crucial.
|Journal||Physical Review Letters|
|Publication status||Published - 5 Jun 2015|