Optical detection of a single rare-earth ion in a crystal.
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Rare-earth-doped laser materials show strong prospects for quantum information storage and processing, as well as for biological imaging, due to their high-Q 4f4f optical transitions. However, the inability to optically detect single rare-earth dopants has prevented these materials from reaching their full potential. Here we detect a single photostable Pr(3+) ion in yttrium aluminium garnet nanocrystals with high contrast photon antibunching by using optical upconversion of the excited state population of the 4f4f optical transition into ultraviolet fluorescence. We also demonstrate on-demand creation of Pr(3+) ions in a bulk yttrium aluminium garnet crystal by patterned ion implantation. Finally, we show generation of local nanophotonic structures and cell death due to photochemical effects caused by upconverted ultraviolet fluorescence of praseodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet in the surrounding environment. Our study demonstrates versatile use of rare-earth atomic-size ultraviolet emitters for nanoengineering and biotechnological applications.