Gradient echo memory in an ultra-high optical depth cold atomic ensemble

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Quantum memories are an integral component of quantum repeaters—devices that will allow the extension of quantum key distribution to communication ranges beyond that permissible by passive transmission. A quantum memory for this application needs to be highly efficient and have coherence times approaching a millisecond. Here we report on work towards this goal, with the development of a 87Rb magneto-optical trap with a peak optical depth of 1000 for the D2 F = 2 → F′ = 3 transition using spatial and temporal dark spots. With this purpose-built cold atomic ensemble we implemented the gradient echo memory (GEM) scheme on the D1 line. Our data shows a memory efficiency of 80 ± 2% and coherence times up to 195 μs, which is a factor of four greater than previous GEM experiments implemented in warm vapour cells.