Direct detection of a single photon by humans
Authors listJonathan N Tinsley Maxim Molodtsov Robert Prevedel David Wartmann Jofre Espigulé-Pons Mattias Lauwers Alipasha Vaziri
Despite investigations for over 70 years, the absolute limits of human vision have remained unclear. Rod cells respond to individual photons, yet whether a single-photon incident on the eye can be perceived by a human subject has remained a fundamental open question. Here we report that humans can detect a single-photon incident on the cornea with a probability significantly above chance. This was achieved by implementing a combination of a psychophysics procedure with a quantum light source that can generate single-photon states of light. We further discover that the probability of reporting a single photon is modulated by the presence of an earlier photon, suggesting a priming process that temporarily enhances the effective gain of the visual system on the timescale of seconds.