Quantum mechanical arguments show that any optical amplifier must add noise to the amplified beam of light. For the case of a high gain amplifier with a coherent (Poissonian) input, the signal-to-noise ratio of the amplified beam must be at least two times smaller than that of the incident beam. We review the theoretical basis of this prediction. We also describe the results of our experimental investigations of the noise properties of optical amplifiers that utilize the nonlinear optical response of strongly driven atomic transitions.
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