The interaction between a single confined spin and the spins of an electron reservoir leads to one of the most remarkable phenomena of many-body physicsthe Kondo effect. Electronic transport measurements on single artificial atoms, or quantum dots, have made it possible to study the effect in great detail. Here we report optical measurements on a single semiconductor quantum dot tunnel-coupled to a degenerate electron gas which show that absorption of a single photon leads to an abrupt change in the system Hamiltonian and a quantum quench of Kondo correlations. By inferring the characteristic power-law exponents from the experimental absorption line shapes, we find a unique signature of the quench in the form of an Anderson orthogonality catastrophe, induced by a vanishing overlap between the initial and final many-body wavefunctions. We show that the power-law exponent that determines the degree of orthogonality can be tuned using an external magnetic field, which unequivocally demonstrates that the observed absorption line shape originates from Kondo correlations. Our experiments demonstrate that optical measurements on single artificial atoms offer new perspectives on many-body phenomena previously studied using transport spectroscopy only.
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