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Abstract: We propose a simple method for measuring the populations and the relative phase in a coherent superposition of two atomic states. The method is based on coupling the two states to a third common (excited) state by means of two laser pulses, and measuring the total fluorescence from the third state for several choices of the excitation pulses.

We present results from a study of the coherence properties of a system involving three discrete states coupled to each other by two-photon processes via a common continuum. This tripod linkage is an extension of the standard laser-induced continuum structure (LICS) which involves two discrete states and two lasers. We show that in the tripod scheme, there exist two population trapping conditions; in some cases these conditions are easier to satisfy than the single trapping condition in two-state LICS. Depending on the pulse timing, various effects can be observed. We derive some basic properties of the tripod scheme, such as the solution for coincident pulses, the behaviour of the system in the adiabatic limit for delayed pulses, the conditions for no ionization and for maximal ionization, and the optimal conditions for population transfer between the discrete states via the continuum. In the case when one of the discrete states is strongly coupled to the continuum, the population dynamics reduces to a standard two-state LICS problem (involving the other two states) with modified parameters; this provides the opportunity to customize the parameters of a given two-state LICS system.