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Observing a coherent superposition of an atom and a molecule

Mark R. Dowling,1, ∗ Stephen D. Bartlett,2 Terry Rudolph,3, 4 and Robert W. Spekkens5


1
School of Physical Sciences, The University of Queensland, Queensland 4072, Australia
2
School of Physics, The University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia
3
Optics Section, Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London, London SW7 2BW, United Kingdom
4
Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Imperial College London, London SW7 2BW, United Kingdom
5
Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics,
University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 0WA, United Kingdom
(Dated: 20 September 2006)
We demonstrate that it is possible, in principle, to perform a Ramsey-type interference experiment
to exhibit a coherent superposition of a single atom and a diatomic molecule. This gedanken
experiment, based on the techniques of Aharonov and Susskind [Phys. Rev. 155, 1428 (1967)],
arXiv:quant-ph/0606128v2 11 Dec 2006

explicitly violates the commonly-accepted superselection rule that forbids coherent superpositions
of eigenstates of differing atom number. A Bose-Einstein condensate plays the role of a reference
frame that allows for coherent operations analogous to Ramsey pulses. We also investigate an
analogous gedanken experiment to exhibit a coherent superposition of a single boson and a fermion,
violating the commonly-accepted superselection rule forbidding coherent superpositions of states of
differing particle statistics. In this case, the reference frame is realized by a multi-mode state of
many fermions. This latter case reproduces all of the relevant features of Ramsey interferometry,
including Ramsey fringes over many repetitions of the experiment. However, the apparent inability
of this proposed experiment to produce well-defined relative phases between two distinct systems
each described by a coherent superposition of a boson and a fermion demonstrates that there are
additional, outstanding requirements to fully “lift” the univalence superselection rule.

PACS numbers: 03.65.Ta, 03.75.Dg, 03.75.Gg

I. INTRODUCTION for spatial orientation is required to exhibit coherence


between states of differing angular momentum (in some
direction), a more exotic form of reference frame is re-
Part of the dogma of orthodox quantum mechanics is quired to exhibit coherence between states of differing
the presumed existence of superselection rules [1, 2] for charge. Arguably, it is the ubiquity of reference frames
certain quantities. For instance, it is often stated that for some quantities (such as spatial orientation or phase)
one cannot create or observe quantum coherence between and not for others (such as the type of frame needed to
eigenstates of differing charge, or of differing mass, or exhibit superpositions of charge eigenstates) that has led
of number eigenstates of particles with differing statis- to the proposed superselection rules for some quantities
tics (e.g., a superposition of a boson and a fermion).1 and not others.
Originally, superselection rules were introduced to en- While this gedanken experiment served to illustrate
force additional constraints to quantum theory beyond a concept, recent advances in the preparation and ma-
the well-studied constraints of selection rules (conserva- nipulation of exotic quantum states of matter may offer
tion laws). In a classic paper, Aharonov and Susskind [4] the opportunity to demonstrate these concepts in experi-
challenged the necessity of such superselection rules, and ment. In this paper, we discuss the principles of an exper-
outlined a gedanken experiment for exhibiting a coherent iment that may be performed with ultracold atoms and
superposition of charge eigenstates as an example of how molecules where the superselection rule in question is for
superselection rules can be obviated in practice. atom number, or equivalently, baryon number. (The exis-
The gedanken experiment of Aharonov and Susskind, tence of such a superselection rule is commonly assumed,
and subsequent investigations [5, 6, 7, 8, 9], highlighted cf. [1, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15]). The experiment we present
the requirement of an appropriate reference frame in or- aims to exhibit quantum coherence between states corre-
der to exhibit coherence between eigenstates of superse- sponding to a single atom and a diatomic molecule; the
lected quantities. For example, while a reference frame reference frame in this case is a Bose-Einstein condensate
(BEC).
We advance this concept further by outlining a
gedanken experiment to exhibit coherence between a bo-
∗ Electronic address: dowling@physics.uq.edu.au son and a fermion. We demonstrate that, using a refer-
1 In Lorentz-invariant quantum field theories, it has been argued ence frame consisting of many fermions in many modes,
that some superselection rules can be derived within the the- the essential features in this experiment are similar to
ory [3]. However, such arguments do not apply to non-relativistic
quantum theory, and in particular do not apply when classical those of the fully bosonic one, and that the commonly-
reference frames (i.e., measurement apparatuses) are employed accepted superselection rule disallowing superpositions
within the theory. of a boson and a fermion (the univalence superselection
2

rule [16]) can be violated in principle. (a) beamsplitter phase shift beamsplitter measure
Aharonov and Susskind used an operational approach I
|2
to identify coherence between eigenstates of some supers-
elected quantity: the observation of Ramsey-type fringes |1
in an interference experiment. The reference frame allows
space
for the implementation of Ramsey pulses to create and
subsequently measure the superposition states. We fol- Ramsey free Ramsey
(b) pulse evolution pulse
measure
low this approach here, and extend their results by iden-
tifying several salient features of the reference frame that
allow for high-visibility Ramsey fringes for many repeti- |e I
tions of the experiment. We demonstrate that such a ref- or
erence frame can be treated as either a classical or a quan- |g
tum system, with both descriptions leading to equivalent
predictions. In addition, we identify where in the math- time
ematical formalism the coherent superpositions arise: if
interaction free interaction
the reference frame is treated as a quantum system, this (c) measure
with BEC evolution with BEC
coherence arises in the relational degrees of freedom.
Finally, our gedanken experiment to exhibit a coher-
ent superposition of a boson and a fermion suggests that |M 2 21 I 21 2 21
2 2
there must be an additional requirement beyond the 2
2
2 2 2 2 or
|A 1 2 1 1 1
ability to repeatedly observe high-visibility interference 2 22
2 2
fringes for one to say that a superselection rule has been
time
“lifted.” We show that this gedanken experiment, despite
possessing all of the salient features of a Ramsey interfer-
ometry experiment, cannot induce a well-defined relative FIG. 1: Schematic of the demonstration of quantum coher-
phase between two distinct systems each described by a ence in different physical systems; (a) Mach-Zender interfer-
coherent superposition of a boson and a fermion. We ometer, (b) Ramsey interferometry, (c) the ultracold atom-
therefore demonstrate that the ability to repeatedly vio- molecule system considered in this paper.
late a superselection rule is not equivalent to lifting it.
tonian for some finite time is called a Ramsey pulse, and
II. EXHIBITING QUANTUM COHERENCE if this Hamiltonian is applied for a time t = π/(2Ω), the
WITH INTERFEROMETRY resulting unitary operation is called a π/2-pulse. The
second type of evolution is governed by the free Hamil-
Consider a two-level atom, defined by two energy tonian
eigenstates |gi and |ei. How would one demonstrate co-
Ĥfree = ∆|eihe| , (2)
herence between these two states? That is, how does
one discriminate the coherent superposition √12 (|gi + |ei) with ∆ the detuning between the energy splitting be-
from the incoherent mixture 12 (|gihg| + |eihe|)? A direct tween |ei and |gi and the laser frequency when the laser
method would be to measure many identically-prepared is tuned off resonance.
atoms in the basis |±i = √12 (|gi ± |ei) and observe the The interference experiment proceeds as follows. The
statistics. However, in practice, preparations and mea- system is prepared in the initial state |gi, and then sub-
surements are restricted to the basis {|gi, |ei}. The stan- jected to a π/2-pulse. The relative phase shift φ is then
dard method, then, is to perform an interference experi- applied using the second type of evolution for a time
ment, in the form of a Ramsey interferometer, which we τ = φ/∆, followed by another π/2-pulse. At the time
now outline. of the preparation, and subsequent to each of the three
Between the preparation and the measurement, the in- interactions, the state of the atom is, respectively,
terference experiment makes use of two types of evolu-
tions. The first evolution is described by a Hamiltonian |Ψ0 i = |gi , (3)
of the form √1

|Ψ1 i = 2
|gi − i|ei , (4)
~Ω √1 |gi − ie−iφ |ei ,

ĤRam =

|gihe| + |eihg| , (1) |Ψ2 i = 2
(5)
2
|Ψ3 i = sin(φ/2)|gi − cos(φ/2)|ei . (6)
where Ω is a real number. This evolution is implemented
by a laser tuned to the energy difference of these two Finally, the atom is measured in the {|gi, |ei} basis. By
levels, and this description is adequate if the laser pulse controlling the magnitude of the phase shift φ between
can be treated as an external potential (i.e., with a well- the pulses over many runs of the experiment, one observes
defined amplitude and phase). Application of this Hamil- so-called Ramsey fringes – oscillations in the probability
3

of measuring the outcome corresponding to |gi (or |ei) as number2 .


a function of φ. Such Ramsey fringes are the signature We will use a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) of
of coherent operation, i.e., that the description of the atoms of type 2 to serve as our reference frame, i.e., as
system for the time period between the two π/2-pulses the analogue of the electromagnetic field that constitutes
is given by a coherent superposition of |gi and |ei. If the Ramsey pulse. (The use of a BEC as a phase ref-
instead the system was described at this intermediate erence has been discussed in [24].) The analogue of the
time by an incoherent superposition, then the resulting Ramsey pulse in our experiment is given by an interac-
statistics would be independent of φ, i.e., no fringes would tion of the two-level system with the reference frame (the
be observed. See the experimental paper of Bertet et BEC). The relative phase shift will be implemented by
al. [17] for a presentation of a Ramsey interferometry free evolution of the system. Using these two basic evo-
experiment that takes a similar perspective to the one lutions we will describe an experiment that is formally
adopted in this paper. equivalent to Ramsey interferometry.
The basic structure of this Ramsey interference ex-
periment has analogies in many other quantum sys-
tems. An experiment using a single photon and a Mach- A. Using a quantum reference frame
Zender interferometer is formally equivalent, with beam-
splitters acting in the role of the Ramsey pulses; see In the Ramsey interference experiment presented in
Fig. 1. Other analogous experiments are commonplace Sec. II, the laser pulse which served as a reference
in atomic, molecular and nuclear systems, and have more frame was treated as a external potential. However,
recently been demonstrated in artificial structures such another description of the same experiment could be
as semiconductor quantum dots [18] and superconduct- presented wherein the laser pulse was treated as a dy-
ing qubits [19]. Because the same abstract structure can namical quantum system. In general, different descrip-
be realized in a wide variety of physical systems, the iden- tions of the same interference experiment are possible
tification between these different realizations of the same depending on whether the reference frame is treated as a
basic interference experiment has been called the “quan- non-dynamical macroscopic apparatus or as a dynamical
tum Rosetta stone” [20]. We seek to add another real- quantum system. In the language of [25] to treat the ref-
ization to this list. erence frame as part of the apparatus is to use it as an
external reference frame, while to treat it as a dynami-
cal quantum object is to use it as an internal reference
frame.
We begin by treating the reference frame – in this case,
III. COHERENT SUPERPOSITIONS OF AN the BEC – as a fully-dynamical quantum system. At the
ATOM AND A MOLECULE end of Sec. III B, we will demonstrate that this exper-
iment is equivalent to the Ramsey interference experi-
ment described in the previous section when the reference
We now consider an analog of the Ramsey experiment frame (the BEC) is treated externally.
that aims to exhibit coherence between a single atom
and a molecule. Consider a bosonic atom; we denote the
species of this atom as type 1. Also, consider a diatomic
1. Quantum state of the BEC
bosonic molecule, denoted M , which consists of one atom
of type 1 and one other bosonic atom of another type, 2.
We now define a two-level system, which will serve as the For simplicity, we adopt a single-mode description of
analogue in our experiment of the two-level atom in the the BEC. The single mode corresponds to the Gross-
Ramsey experiment. This two-level system is spanned by Pitaevski ground state, which has had great success in
the following basis states: describing BEC dynamics [13, 26]. Following the termi-
nology of [4] we refer to the three modes – the mode of
atom type 1, the molecular mode, and the BEC mode –
|Ai = |0iM |1iA , |M i = |1iM |0iA , (7) together as the laboratory 3 . States of the laboratory are

where |iiA is a Fock state for an atomic mode of type 1


and |iiM is a Fock state for a diatomic molecule mode. 2 We note that such an experiment is distinct from ones that aim
One may consider the single atom state, |Ai, as the ana- to exhibit coherence between two atoms and a diatomic molecule,
logue of the ground state of the two-level atom in the or between a BEC of N atoms and a BEC of N/2 diatomic
Ramsey experiment, and the molecule state |M i as the molecules, as considered in [21, 22, 23].
3 We will describe our proposed experiment in terms of the dynam-
analogue of the excited state of this two-level atom. The
ics of these three modes. There are, of course, many details that
aim is to demonstrate coherence in this two-level system, are not captured by this simple model, for example the many vi-
i.e., coherence between |Ai and |M i. Such a demonstra- brational modes of the molecule, which would need to be taken
tion of coherence violates a superselection rule for atom into consideration in an experiment.
4

most generally defined on the Fock space FM ⊗ FA ⊗ F2 described here: the state ρrf
0 can be intuitively viewed as
spanned by the basis of Fock states |nM iM |nA iA |n2 i2 , a coherent state |β}, the phase of which (argβ) is uncor-
where nM , nA and n2 are occupation numbers for the related with any classical phase reference used to describe
modes. In our experiment, n̂M + n̂A will be a constant of the experiment.
the motion. Initially, it has eigenvalue 1, as we consider If the BEC mode is initially described by this mixed
an initial state consisting of precisely one atom of type 1 state ρrf
0 , and the system starts in the state |Ai, then the
and zero molecules. Thus, we can restrict our attention initial state of the laboratory may be expressed as
to the two-dimensional subspace of FM ⊗ FA spanned by Z 2π
the two states |Ai and |M i of Eq. (7). We refer to this dθ −iN̂tot θ
W0L = |AihA| ⊗ ρrf 0 = e |Ψ0 iL hΨ0 |eiN̂tot θ ,
two-level system as the system, and the Hilbert space as- 0 2π
sociated with it (spanned by |Ai and |M i) is denoted HS . (10)
The reference frame is the remaining mode describing where
the BEC of atomic species 2, with infinite-dimensional
Hilbert space HR = F2 . States of the laboratory (sys- |Ψ0 iL ≡ |Ai|β} . (11)
tem + reference frame) are thus defined on HS ⊗ HR .
We will use the modified Dirac notation |·} for the state and where the total atom number operator N̂tot is defined
of the reference frame, to emphasize the special role it as
plays.
The BEC consists of atoms of type 2 in a single mode N̂tot ≡ 2n̂M + n̂A + n̂2 . (12)
(the Gross-Pitaevski ground state mentioned above). In
We define the twirling operator acting on density opera-
simplistic treatments, it is common to treat the conden-
tors on the laboratory as
sate as a coherent state, i.e., to assignPa state |β}, de-

fined in the number basis√ as |β} = n=0 cn |n} with
Z 2π
dθ −iN̂tot θ
2 n
cn = exp(−|β| /2)β / n!, as the quantum state of the T [ρL ] = e ρL eiN̂tot θ . (13)
0 2π
BEC. However, as argued in [25], the coherence proper-
ties of a state assigned to a bosonic mode are defined Then W0L = T [|Ψ0 iL hΨ0 |]. It will be illustrative to fol-
relative to a classical reference frame for phase that is low the evolution of the θ = 0 element |Ψ0 iL of the en-
held in the background. If the phase of the BEC is un- semble in Eq. (10) through the experiment, bearing in
correlated with any classical phase reference in the back- mind that the global phase θ is not physically significant,
ground, as we will assume in our experiment, then it is and the quantum state of the laboratory is obtained by
instead appropriate to assign it a quantum state that is averaging over this phase (implemented by the twirling
incoherently averaged over all possible orientations with operation T ).
respect to the background phase reference. Such a state
is given by
Z 2π 2. Interactions with the quantum reference frame
rf dθ −in̂2 θ
ρ0 = e |β}{β|ein̂2 θ . (8)
0 2π We now outline the Hamiltonians that will be used to
It is straightforward to show that this state is equal to a induce the required evolutions in our gedanken experi-
Poissonian mixture of number states ment. The first is an interaction between the system and
the quantum reference frame. At a Feshbach resonance,

X which occurs when an external magnetic field is tuned
ρrf
0 = pn (n̄)|n}{n| , (9) so that the energy of two free atoms is equal to that of
n=0
a bound molecular state, coherent tunneling occurs be-
where pn (n̄) = e−n̄ n̄n /n! is a Poisson distribution with tween pairs of atoms and molecules. A simple model
n̄ = |β|2 . It is this state, ρrf
0 , that we choose to describe
Hamiltonian for this phenomena, where the two atoms
the BEC.4 The treatment of the BEC as an incoherent are of different species is (cf. [32])
state is consistent with the arguments of Refs. [10, 11, 28].
~κ †
Eq. (8) is particularly useful as a pedagogical tool for Ĥint = (b̂ b̂A b̂2 + b̂M b̂†A b̂†2 ) , (14)
understanding interference experiments such as the one 2 M

where b̂M is the annihilation operator for the bound


molecular state, and b̂A and b̂2 are annihilation operators
4 The intuition that motivates using a coherent state for the BEC
for the modes containing the two distinct atomic species.
is the belief that coherence is required to explain interference ex- This Hamiltonian can be reexpressed in terms of an op-
periments involving BECs such as [27]. However, coherent states erator on the Hilbert space HS ⊗ HR of the laboratory
are not required for such an explanation; it has been demon- as
strated that number states, or incoherent mixtures of number
states such as Eq. (9), can also interfere [28]. See [29, 30, 31] for ~κ

|M ihA| ⊗ b̂2 + |AihM | ⊗ b̂†2 .

further discussion of this fact. Ĥint = (15)
2
5

We will also make use of a Hamiltonian that induces a as the net relative phase shift between the atom and
relative phase shift on the system. Such a Hamiltonian molecule terms acquired during this stage.
is provided by moving off of the Feshbach resonance and Finally we implement the analogue of the second Ram-
allowing free evolution under the Hamiltonian sey pulse by allowing the system and reference frame to
interact
√ again at the Feshbach resonance for time t =
ĤFree = ~ωM n̂M + ~ωA n̂A + ~ω2 n̂2 , (16) π/(2κ n̄), giving the final state W3L = T [|Ψ3 iL hΨ3 |],
with
where ~ωi , i = M, A, 2, are the internal energies of the
two atomic species and the molecule away from the Fes- 3
|Ψ3 iL = |Ai|βA 3
} + |M i|βM }, (24)
hbach resonance. There will be some internal energy dif-
ference between the bound molecular state and the sum where we have defined unnormalized states
of the two free atomic states when off-resonance, given

by 3
X q
cn cos( n̄n π2 ) |n} ,

|βA } ≡ sin(φ/2)|β} − i cos(φ/2)
∆int ≡ ωM − ωA − ω2 . (17) n=0
(25)

We note that both N̂tot and n̂M + n̂A are constants of the 3
X q
motion, and thus we can move to an interaction picture |βM } ≡ − cos(φ/2) cn sin( n̄n π2 )|n−1} , (26)
in which the free-evolution Hamiltonian on HS is simply n=0


ĤFree = ~∆int |M ihM | , (18) and where we have ignored the global phase (ie−i∆int τ /2 )
in the final states. Finally, the system is measured in the
up to addition of a constant. {|Ai, |M i} basis.

3. The interference experiment 4. A large-amplitude limit of the BEC

We initiate the experiment with the laboratory in the We now examine the limit n̄ → ∞. The Poisson dis-
state W0L of Eq. (10). The system√and reference frame tribution of the state (9) has two key properties that will
first interact for a time t = π/(2κ n̄) at the Feshbach be useful for our purposes. First, in this limit, the atom
resonance according to (15). This interaction plays the number distribution pn (n̄) of the BEC becomes highly
role of a Ramsey pulse. As a result of this interaction, peaked about the mean atom number in the sense √ that
the state of the laboratory evolves (in the Schrödinger the standard deviation in atom number, ∆n = n̄, goes
picture) to W1L = T [|Ψ1 iL hΨ1 |], with to zero relative to the mean. This property ensures that
1 1
the interaction of the system with the BEC yields pre-
|Ψ1 iL = |Ai|βA } + |M i|βM }, (19) cisely a π/2 Ramsey pulse in this limit.5 The second
property is that, in absolute terms, the standard devia-
where we have defined unnormalized states tion grows unbounded and so intuitively we might think

X q that the state of the BEC is negligibly disturbed by the
1
|βA }≡ cn cos( n̄n π4 )|n} , (20) loss of a single atom in this limit. Formally, the states of
n=0 the reference frame after the first and second interactions

X q approach the following limits6 as n̄ → ∞
1
|βM } ≡ −i cn sin( n̄n π4 )|n−1} . (21)
n=0 1 1 3
|βA } → √ |β} , |βA } → sin(φ/2)|β} (27)
2
We can interpret these states as (unnormalized) coher-
1 iei arg β 3
ent states that have undergone a disturbance due to the |βM } → − √ |β} , |βM } → −ei arg β cos(φ/2)|β} .
interaction with the system. 2
Next, we allow the laboratory to freely evolve for time (28)
τ away from the Feshbach resonance according to (18).
This free evolution induces a relative phase between the
atom and molecule terms. The result is a state W2L =
T [|Ψ2 iL hΨ2 |], with 5 Each Fock state |n} component of the reference-frame state
induces
√ a Rabi oscillation between |Ai and |M i at frequency
1
|Ψ2 iL = |Ai|βA 1
} + e−iφ |M i|βM }, (22) κ n + 1. In the limit n̄ → ∞, the fact that the uncertainty
in n goes to zero relative to the mean ensures that all relevant
oscillations occur at the same frequency.
and where we have defined 6 These limits follow from the fact that the inner products of the
BEC states with the appropriate coherent states approach unity
φ ≡ ∆int τ , (23) in the limit n̄ → ∞.
6

Therefore, in the limit n̄ → ∞, the evolution of the θ = 0 Within the analysis of the Ramsey experiment pre-
term of Eq. (10), that is, the evolution of |Ψ0 iL given by sented in Sec. II, the electromagnetic field constituting
Eqns. (11), (19), (22) and (24), reduces to the Ramsey pulses was treated as an external potential.
As is well known, this description is perfectly adequate
|Ψ0 iL = |Ai|β} , (29) if the fields have large amplitude. But note that one
√1 i arg β could have also chosen to treat this EM field within the

|Ψ1 iL → 2
|Ai − ie |M i |β} , (30)
quantum formalism, as a dynamical system interacting
√1 |Ai − iei(arg β−φ) |M i |β} ,

|Ψ2 iL → 2
(31) with the atom. We emphasize that whether the refer-
i arg β
 ence frame (the EM field) is treated internally or exter-
|Ψ3 iL → sin(φ/2)|Ai − e cos(φ/2)|M i |β} . (32)
nally is merely a choice of the physicist. As long as the
We see that the θ = 0 term (in fact, any term) remains field has large amplitude, either description is adequate
a product on HS ⊗ HR for the entire experiment. More- to the task of making accurate predictions about what
over, applying the twirling operator T to such a product will be observed by the experimenter.
yields a separable state, which involves classical correla- Treating the reference frame internally, we can take
tions between the system and the reference frame but no the state of the field to be a coherent state of a sin-
entanglement. In addition, we note that in this limit the gle bosonic mode associated with a bosonic annihilation
reduced density operator of the reference frame remains operator â. The phase is unimportant (i.e., the demon-
ρrf stration of Ramsey oscillations does not depend on the
0 of Eq. (8) at each stage; i.e., the reference frame is
left undisturbed throughout the experiment. phase of the coherent state), so one obtains the same ex-
The probabilities for detecting an atom or molecule at perimental predictions if this state is averaged over all
the end display Ramsey oscillations phases [29, 30], i.e., if one uses a quantum state for the
EM field of the same form as the BEC state of Eq. (8).
pA = sin2 (φ/2) , pM = cos2 (φ/2) . (33) The relevant Hamiltonian for interacting the two-level
atom with the EM field in this internalized description is
This interference pattern has perfect visibility. the Jaynes-Cummings Hamiltonian

ĤJC = ~χ |gihe| ⊗ â + |eihg| ⊗ ↠.



(36)
5. Interpreting the results
Starting with the coherent state averaged over all phases
for the EM field and the Jaynes-Cummings interaction
We see therefore that the probabilities for detecting
Hamiltonian, one is led to a description of the original
an atom or molecule exhibit the familiar Ramsey oscil-
Ramsey experiment that is precisely equivalent to the
lations, identified in Sec. II as the operational signature
one we have just provided for the atom-molecule system.
of coherence. So it would seem that we can safely con-
Along with being formally equivalent to our atom-
clude that this experiment demonstrates the possibility
molecule experiment, this description of the Ramsey ex-
of a coherent superposition of an atom and a molecule.
periment with an internalized reference frame is opera-
However, the careful reader might have noted the fol-
tionally equivalent to the one presented in Sec. II, and
lowing peculiar fact. From Eqs. (30) and (31), we find
necessarily makes the same predictions. In particular, it
that the reduced density operators on HS of |Ψ2 iL or
agrees with the model of Sec. II in predicting the presence
|Ψ3 iL are
of Ramsey fringes. Given that such a model is formally
√1 |Ai − iei arg β |M i ,

(34) equivalent to the atom-molecule experiment presented in
2 the previous section, we see that that the latter neces-
√1 |Ai − iei(arg β−φ) |M i ,

2
(35) sarily predicted the presence of such fringes.
We now turn to the resolution of this puzzle, which
respectively. The reduced density operators on HS of applies to both our proposed atom-molecule experiment
W2L and W3L are obtained from these by averaging over as well as the Ramsey experiment. We denote the system
arg β through the use of the twirling operator T . In both by S and the reference frame by R. In the case of the
cases, this state is found to be the completely mixed state Ramsey experiment, S is the atom and R is the EM field
1
2 (|AihA| + |M ihM |), i.e., an incoherent mixture of an constituting the Ramsey pulse, while in the case of the
atom and a molecule. Thus, we have a puzzle: we have atom-molecule interference experiment, S is the mode
clearly predicted the standard operational signature of pair of atom mode and molecule mode and R is the BEC
coherence, namely Ramsey-type fringes, but the coher- constituting the analogue of the Ramsey pulse.
ence is not present in our mathematical description of In such an experiment, if the reference frame is treated
the system. externally, the total Hilbert space is denoted HS and the
Before suggesting the resolution of this puzzle, we shall quantum state on this Hilbert space describes the relation
demonstrate that it is not unique to the atom-molecule between S and R. As demonstrated in Sec. II, the ob-
example we are considering. We find precisely the same servation of fringes in this experiment implies coherence
peculiarity in the context of the original Ramsey experi- between states |gi and |ei of this particular relational
ment, as follows. degree of freedom. Alternately, if the reference frame
7

is treated internally, the total Hilbert space is denoted have, for N in this range,
by HS ⊗ HR ; however, in this description the quantum
(N )
state on HS describes the relation between S and a back- |Ψ0 iL → |Ai|N } , (39)
ground reference frame, distinct from R. Thus although (N )
√1

|Ψ1 iL → |Ai|N } − i|M i|N −1} , (40)
it is standard practice to use a common notation, the 2
Hilbert space we denote by HS when R is treated exter- (N )
√1 |Ai|N } − ie−iφ |M i|N −1} ,

|Ψ2 iL → 2
(41)
nally and the Hilbert space we denote by HS when R is
(N )
treated internally describe distinct degrees of freedom. |Ψ3 iL → sin(φ/2)|Ai|N } − cos(φ/2)|M i|N −1} . (42)
Thus, it is a mistake to think that a coherent super- The fact that the coefficients in these superpositions are
position of states |gi and |ei on HS when R is treated
independent of N suggests that, in this limit, we can
externally necessarily implies a coherent superposition of express these states on an alternate Hilbert space, as we
states |gi and |ei on HS when R is treated internally.
now demonstrate.
Specifically, if one investigates only the reduced density We define a new two-dimensional Hilbert space Hrel
matrix on HS when R is treated internally, no coher-
with an orthonormal basis denoted by |Airel and |M irel ,
ence will be found because the reference frame R rela- corresponding respectively to nM = 0 (no molecules)
tive to which these coherences are defined has been dis-
and nM = 1 (one molecule). We call this the relational
carded in taking the partial trace. To find the relation Hilbert space. We also define a new Hilbert space Hgl
between S and R when the latter is treated internally, one
which has an orthonormal basis labeled by N and de-
should not look to the reduced density operator on HS fined for N ≥ 1. We call this the global Hilbert space.
but rather to the reduced density operator on a different ′
Define the subspace HL of HL as the orthogonal comple-
Hilbert space: one for which its degrees of freedom are
ment to the vector |Ai|0}. We can define a linear map
the relation between S and R. In the following section, ′
from the subspace HL of HS ⊗ HR to this new tensor
we identify this relational Hilbert space and demonstrate
product Hilbert space Hrel ⊗ Hgl by its action on basis
that when Ramsey fringes are observed, states in this vectors as
Hilbert space are indeed coherent.
|Ai|N } 7→ |Airel |N igl , (43)
|M i|N − 1} 7→ |M irel |N igl , (44)

B. A relational description for all N ≥ 1.


It is illustrative to construct this alternate Hilbert
space and the associated map (43-44) by simultaneously
We now provide the details of the relational descrip- diagonalizing two commuting operators. Note that the
tion. This description could be viewed as an example states |Ai|N } and |M i|N } on HS ⊗ HR are simultaneous
of quantum coherence in the presence of unobservable eigenstates of the operators n̂M (or equivalently, n̂1 ) and
quantities, in this case the overall phase, discussed in [33]. n̂2 ; the former labels states on HS , and the later labels
The averaging over all phases, given by the twirling oper- states on HR . Specifically,
ator T , ensures that the density matrix of the laboratory
is, at all times in this experiment, block-diagonal in the |Ai|N } = |nM =0, n2 =N i (45)
eigenspaces of total type-2 atom number N̂2 = n̂2 + n̂M . |M i|N } = |nM =1, n2 =N i . (46)
(Note that this total number operator also counts atoms
of type 2 that are bound in molecules.) Thus, we can We can instead choose a different set of commuting op-
express the state of the laboratory at each stage as erators to achieve an alternate tensor product structure
for the laboratory Hilbert space. We choose the commut-
∞ ing operators n̂M and N̂2 = n̂2 + n̂M , the latter being the
(N ) (N ) total number operator for atoms of type 2. We note that
X
WiL = pN (n̄)|Ψi iL hΨi | , i = 0, 1, 2, 3, (37)
N =0 the states |Ai|N } and |M i|N } are also joint eigenstates
of n̂M and N̂2 , so that we may write
where |Ai|N } = |nM = 0, N2 = N i (47)
|M i|N } = |nM = 1, N2 = N + 1i . (48)
(N )
|Ψi iL = ΠN |Ψi iL , (38)
We note that in the limit n̄ → ∞, the states
we consider have no support on the vector |Ai|0} =
with ΠN the projector onto the eigenspace of N̂2 with |nM =0, N2 =0i and thus we can focus our attention on
eigenvalue N , spanned by |Ai|N } and |M i|N − 1}. the subspace HL′
of HL that is orthogonal to this vector.

In the limit n̄ → ∞, the states WiL √
have most of their The states on HL are of the form |nM , N2 i with N2 ≥ 1.

support on the subspaces for which n̄− n̄ . N . n̄+ n̄, Because the spectra of n̂M and N̂2 are independent, we
and using the same approximations as in Sec. III A 4 we can introduce a new tensor product structure Hrel ⊗ Hgl
8


on HL which is made by identifying and the Hamiltonian governing the interaction between
the system and the reference frame, Eq. (15), becomes
|Airel |N igl ≡ |nM =0, N2 =N i , (49)
′ ~κ  q
|M irel |N igl ≡ |nM =1, N2 =N i , (50) Ĥint = |M irel hA| + |Airel hM | ⊗ N̂gl . (60)
2
for all N ≥ 1. We then have a vector space isomorphism The effective map for the interaction with the BEC is
determined as follows. √ Noting that the interaction occurs
′ ∼
HL = Hrel ⊗ Hgl , (51) for a time t = π/2κ n̄ and that the initial state on Hgl
is ρgl of Eq. (58), the effective evolution on Hrel is repre-
This identification recovers the map of Eq. (43-44). sented by a completely-positive trace-preserving map E
Note that, under the map of Eq. (43-44), we have of the form
† 
E(ρrel ) = Trgl Uint (ρrel ⊗ ρgl )Uint

α|Ai|N } + β|M i|N −1} 7→ α|Airel + β|M irel |N igl ,
(52)
X †
= pN (n̄)gl hN |Uint ρrel Uint |N igl
so that while the reduced density operator for this state N
on the system HS is an incoherent mixture of |Ai and X (N ) (N )
|M i, the reduced density operator on the new subsystem = pN (n̄)eiĤint t ρrel e−iĤint t . (61)
Hrel is a coherent superposition of |Airel and |M irel . N
This fact implies that the states WiL of the laboratory (N ) ′
where Ĥint = gl hN |Ĥint |N igl . But given that in the
(in the limit n̄ → ∞) map to product states
limit of large n̄, the√distribution pN (n̄)
√ is only significant
WiL = |Ψi irel hΨi | ⊗ ρgl , (53) in the range√ n̄ − n̄ . N . n̄ + n̄ and given that
limn̄→∞ (n̄±n̄t n̄)t = 1, we have that in this limit
where
E(ρrel ) = eiĤRam t ρrel e−iĤRam t , (62)
|Ψ0 irel = |Airel , (54)
where
√1 √

|Ψ1 irel = |Airel − i|M irel , (55)
2 ~κ n̄ 
√1
ĤRam = |M irel hA| + |Airel hM | . (63)
|Airel − ie−iφ |M irel ,

|Ψ2 irel = 2
(56) 2
|Ψ3 irel = sin(φ/2)|Airel − cos(φ/2)|M irel , (57) This has a natural interpretation as the analogue of a
Ramsey pulse where the pulse is implemented by a BEC
and that is treated as a classical external field.

We can now make a complete comparison of our rela-
X tional description of the atom-molecule interference ex-
ρgl = pN (n̄)|N igl hN | . (58)
periment with the original description of the Ramsey ex-
N =1
periment in Sec. II (where the fields corresponding to the
This new tensor product structure demonstrates ex- Ramsey pulses were treated as external potentials). The

plicitly how we resolve the puzzle posed in the previous Hamiltonians ĤFree of Eq. (59) and ĤRam of Eq. (63)
section. Both the states of HS and the states of Hrel are governing the relational degree of freedom are precisely
labeled by the number of molecules, and consequently analogous to the Hamiltonians of Eq. (2) and Eq. (1)
describe whether the system is an atom or a molecule. governing the internal state of the atom in the Ramsey
Thus, the question “can one have a coherent superposi- experiment, and the states on Hrel at the four stages
tion of an atom and a molecule?” is seen to be ambiguous of the experiment, given by Eqs. (54)-(57), are precisely
as stated. Does it refer to a coherent superposition of |Ai analogous to the states for Eqs. (3)-(6) for the internal
and |M i on HS or to a coherent superposition of |Airel states of the atom in the Ramsey experiment. We con-
and |M irel on Hrel ? To resolve the ambiguity, we take clude that Hrel can be understood as describing either:
an operational stance. By arguing in analogy with the (i) the relation between the system (atom and molecule
Ramsey interference experiment, we have proposed that modes) and the reference frame formed by the BEC when
an operational signature of coherence is the appearance the latter is treated internally, or (ii) the system (atom
of Ramsey fringes, and we have shown that this coincides and molecule modes) when the reference frame formed
with having a coherent superposition of |Airel and |M irel by the BEC is treated as an external potential.
on Hrel .
We finish our analysis by considering the dynamics on
the laboratory in terms of the new tensor product struc- IV. COHERENT SUPERPOSITIONS OF A
ture. Using the map of Eq. (43), we find that the free BOSON AND A FERMION
Hamiltonian for the evolution between Ramsey pulses,
defined by Eq. (18), becomes simply We now repeat this analysis for the case when the
atoms are fermions, and demonstrate that it is possi-

ĤFree = ~∆int |M irel hM | , (59) ble in principle to exhibit coherence between a fermion
9

(a single atom) and a boson (a molecule). This result We first examine some of the properties of the state of
is quite surprising; it is commonly accepted that there the BEC in the experiment discussed in Sec. III A which
exists a superselection rule preventing a coherent super- allowed it to serve as a good reference frame. To ob-
position of a boson and a fermion. We emphasize that tain good visibility in the experiment, we required that
we are considering a superposition of a single fermionic all relevant Rabi oscillations corresponding to different
atom with a single bosonic molecule, not a superposition Fock state components |ni in the state of the reference
of two fermionic atoms and a composite bosonic molecule frame occur at the same frequency, which is obtained by
as considered in [34, 35]. requiring the variance in n to be small compared to the
Consider our laboratory to consist of two types of mean, n̄. This requirement could be satisfied by a state
atomic species, type 1 and type 2, which are fermions, with a modest value of n̄, and we could still have pre-
along with a bosonic diatomic molecule consisting of one dicted good fringe visibility. For example, a single Fock
of each type of fermion. As with the previous discussion, state |ni with n ≥ 1 satisfies this requirement.
we will consider creating a superposition of an atom of In addition, though, we noted that the reduced den-
type 1 and a molecule, using atoms of type 2 as a refer- sity operators for the reference frame at each state of
ence frame. the experiment were undisturbed in the limit n̄ → ∞,
As we are using fermions, the natural Hilbert space for which would allow for the experiment to be repeated
states of the laboratory will be a Fock space. However, many times using the same reference frame. For this
we will want to make use of a tensor product structure additional condition to be satisfied, a large absolute vari-
of the laboratory Hilbert space which divides it into a ance in total atom number is required (thus implying a
system and a reference frame (and, subsequently, into a large mean total atom number).
relational and a global Hilbert space). To do this, we We now consider an analogous situation in the fermion
will make use of the natural mapping between the Fock case. First, consider a reference frame of fermionic atoms
space F N of N fermionic modes and the tensor-product that consists of a single mode. Due to the Pauli exclusion
Hilbert space (C2 )⊗N of N qubits, given by Bravyi and principle, the mean atom number of this reference frame
Kitaev [36] in the Fock basis as can be at most one. Consider using a Hamiltonian of the
form
|n1 , n2 , . . . , nN i 7→ |n1 i ⊗ |n2 i ⊗ · · · ⊗ |nN i , (64)
~κ  † ˆ ˆ 
Ĥ = b̂M f2 fA + fˆA† fˆ2† b̂M , (66)
for ni ∈ {0, 1}. This identification implies a non-trivial 2
relation between operations on F N and operations on
(C2 )⊗N , as a result of phases acquired by commuting where b̂M is the boson annihilation operator for the
operations through occupied modes. Fortunately, due to molecular mode, fˆA is the fermion annihilation operator
the highly-incoherent nature of the states that we will for the mode of atom type 1, and fˆ2 is the annihilation
make use of, and by working with mixed rather than operator for the reference-frame mode of atom type 2. It
pure states, we will find that this non-trivial identifica- is clear that if the initial state of the system is |Ai and of
tion does not add much additional complication. the reference frame is |1}, then it is possible to perform
Again, we use the notation an interference experiment yielding maximum visibility.
However, in this experiment, the state of the reference
|Ai = |0iM |1iA , |M i = |1iM |0iA , (65) frame is highly disturbed. One might (rightly) argue that
it is essentially just a Rabi oscillation. We now consider
where the first mode |·iM is bosonic (the molecule), and what conditions on the state of the reference frame must
the second mode |·iA is fermionic (atom type 1). We be satisfied in order for it to be undisturbed through-
define a system Hilbert space HS spanned by these two out the experiment, thereby making it analogous to the
states |Ai and |M i. bosonic case in this regard as well. First, we require that
the mean number of fermions in the reference frame must
be large. To achieve this, because of the Pauli exclusion
A. Using a quantum reference frame consisting of principle, the reference frame must be multi-mode. Sec-
fermions ond, we cannot allow every new system to interact with
the same mode of the reference frame. The reason for
1. Generalizing the previous experiment the latter is that a single mode can have at most one
fermion, and if we happen to find a molecule at the end of
In order to construct an interference experiment that the Ramsey experiment (and we should assume the worst
exhibits coherence between a boson and a fermion, we and say that we do find a molecule) then this fermion has
must identify an appropriate reference frame consist- been depleted from that mode. The next system that in-
ing of fermions. This is non-trivial, given the diffi- teracts with this mode will therefore only interact with
culties of defining a fermionic coherent state that has the vacuum.
analogous properties to the standard (bosonic) coherent We now define a multi-mode reference frame with a
state [37, 38, 39]. Again, we meet these challenges by large mean number of atoms, and an associated multi-
being operational. mode interaction between the system and the reference
10

frame. The experiment we describe yields high visibility specifically, the mode associated with the fermionic an-
and also leaves the state of the reference frame undis- nihilation operator F̂ = √1M j fˆk . As discussed above,
P
turbed. such a coupling is unsatisfactory.
Consider instead the following evolution: the sys-
tem interacts with a random mode j of the reference
2. The quantum state of the reference frame frame via the interaction Ĥ (j) . We can formalize such
an evolution by using the language of quantum opera-
Consider an K-mode fermionic reference frame of (j)
tions [40]. Let Uπ/2 be the unitary operation that de-
atoms of type 2, using the tensor product structure of
scribes π/2-pulse obtained by coupling the system and
Eq. (64), initially prepared in the state
the j th reference-frame mode via the Hamiltonion Ĥ (j)
ρrf
0 = σ
⊗K
, (67) for a time t = π/(2κ).7 Let Uφ be the unitary operation
that applies a phase shift φ = ∆int τ to the |M i compo-
where σ is given by nent of the system, i.e., evolution for time τ according to
the Hamiltonian Ĥint = ∆int |M ihM |.
σ = ǫ|0}{0| + (1 − ǫ)|1}{1| . (68) If laboratory is initially in the state W0L , and if the
system interacts with a known reference-frame mode j,
The distribution of total atom number in the state ρrf 0 the state at each stage of the experiment is given by
is given by the binomial distribution cKn (1−ǫ), where we
define the binomial coefficient cK
n (p) of n successes in K
(j) (j) (j)
W1L = Uπ/2 W0L (Uπ/2 )−1 , (73)
trials where the probability of success is p as
(j) (j) (j)
K n
W2L = Uφ Uπ/2 W0L (Uφ Uπ/2 )−1 , (74)
cK K−n

n (p) = n p (1 − p) . (69)
(j) (j) (j) (j) (j)
W3L = Uπ/2 Uφ Uπ/2 W0L (Uπ/2 Uφ Uπ/2 )−1 , (75)
As we will argue below, in the limit K → ∞ this atom
number distribution has the property that the loss of a where the unitaries U (j) are taken to act as the identity
single particle leaves the distribution indistinguishable on all modes other than the jth mode.
from the original. To describe an evolution where, with probability 1/K,
the system interacts with the j th reference-frame mode,
we make use of generalized quantum operations, which
3. The interference experiment have the form of completely-positive trace-preserving
(CPTP) maps given, in this instance, by convex com-
We initiate the experiment with the system prepared binations of unitary transformations. We describe the
in the state |Ai and the reference frame in the state ρrf0 evolution that takes the laboratory from the initial state
of Eq. (67). The initial state of the laboratory is thus W0L to a state WiL for steps i = 1, 2, 3 as
W0L = |AihA| ⊗ ρrf
0 . (70) K
1 X (j) (j)
W1L = E1 (W0L ) = U W0L (Uπ/2 )−1 , (76)
To perform the operation that is analogous to a Ramsey K j=1 π/2
π/2-pulse in this experiment, we use the Hamiltonian
W2L = E2 (W0L )
~κ  † ˆ(j) ˆ (j)†
 K
Ĥ (j) = b̂M f2 fA + fˆA† fˆ2 b̂M , (71) =
1 X (j) (j)
Uφ Uπ/2 W0L (Uφ Uπ/2 )−1 , (77)
2 K j=1
where b̂M is the boson annihilation operator for the W3L = E3 (W0L )
molecular mode, fˆA is the fermion annihilation operator K
(j)
for the mode of atom type 1, and fˆ2 is the annihilation 1 X (j) (j) (j) (j)
= U Uφ Uπ/2 W0L (Uπ/2 Uφ Uπ/2 )−1 .
operator for the jth mode (j = 1, 2, . . . , K) of the ref- K j=1 π/2
erence frame for atom type 2. Again, this Hamiltonian (78)
describes the evolution at a Feshbach resonance, at which
the energy of two free fermions (one each of type 1 and As noted above, there is a non-trivial relation between a
2) is equal to the energy of a bound molecular state. (j)
unitary Uπ/2 coupling two modes together in the tensor
One might naturally consider implementing the π/2-
pulses by using the unitary operation generated by
X
Ĥcoh = Ĥ (j) . (72) 7 Note that the interaction times do not scale inversely with the
j square root of the mean atom number as only one reference-frame
mode containing at most one fermion interacts. Essentially, the
The problem with such a Hamiltonian is that it only system undergoes a type of Rabi oscillation with a single mode
couples the system with a single reference-frame mode, of the reference frame.
11

product Hilbert space, and the same coupling on the Fock these states are equivalent to those presented in Eqs. (76-
space, due to the phases acquired by commuting through 78).
modes j ′ for j ′ < j; in general, this mapping can be The probabilities for measuring an atom or a molecule
determined using the techniques of [36]. However, this after the final step are, respectively,
mapping does not exhibit any non-trivial consequences
pA = Tr W3L |AihA| = ǫ + (1 − ǫ) cos2 (φ/2) , (86)
 
for the interaction presented here, for the following sim-
ple reason. Note that each sequence of unitary opera- pM = Tr W3L |M ihM | = (1 − ǫ) sin2 (φ/2) ,
 
(87)
(j) (j) (j) (j)
tions (either Uπ/2 , Uφ Uπ/2 or Uπ/2 Uφ Uπ/2 ) only couples
the system with a single reference-frame mode j; such yielding a visibility of V = (1 − ǫ). Thus, for small ǫ, we
coupling will thus lead to a non-trivial phase due to the can achieve high visibility for the Ramsey fringes.
modes j ′ < j. However, the expressions above sum in- Along with achieving a high visibility in the limit
coherently over the different possibilities j, and thus the ǫ → 0, this result possesses another analogy with the
phases acquired for each term in this sum do not inter- bosonic experiment of Sec. III: in the limit K → ∞, the
fere. state of the reference frame is left undisturbed through-
For clarity, it will be useful to follow the evolution as- out the experiment. Specifically, the reduced density op-
sociated with the j = 1 element of the above operation, erator of the reference frame remains ρrf
0 of Eq. (67) after
remembering at each step that the state of the labora- the experiment, regardless of what measurement outcome
tory is described by interacting the system with a random (atom or molecule) is obtained. We provide a proof of
mode. To do this, we define the shuffling operation S, this fact in the Appendix.
which is the incoherent symmetrizer acting on states of
the reference frame as
1 X 4. Interpreting the results
S ρrf = Sπ ρrf Sπ† ,
 
(79)
K! π
In the limit discussed above, the state of the refer-
where the sum is over all permutations π of K indices and ence frame described above is undisturbed throughout
Sπ is the unitary representation of the symmetric group the interference experiment. Specifically, if the system
on K fermion modes. We determine the evolution for the is prepared in the state |Ai and the measurement result
system interacting with the j = 1 mode of the reference |M i is obtained, the state of the reference frame is undis-
frame at each step, and then apply the shuffling operator turbed even though a fermionic atom has been removed
to the state of the reference frame to obtain the state from the reference frame. This property is shared with
corresponding to an interaction with a random mode as the single-mode bosonic atom state of Eq. (8).
in Eqs. (76-78). It is illustrative to compare the single-mode bosonic
We first apply a π/2-pulse by evolving with the Hamil- atom state of Eq. (8) and the multi-mode fermionic atom
tonian Ĥ (j=1) for time t = π/(2κ) (step 1), then freely state of Eq. (67), and to address possible concerns of a
evolving off-resonance for time τ (step 2), followed by skeptic who questions whether the latter is a good gen-
another π/2-pulse (step 3), yielding at each step i = eralization of the former for the purposes of a Ramsey
0, 1, 2, 3 experiment.
h i Bosons admit coherent states that are eigenstates of
ǫ|AihA| ⊗ |0}{0| + (1 − ǫ)|Ψi iL hΨi | ⊗ σ ⊗K−1 , (80) the annihilation operator; such coherent states yield good
visibility in an interference experiment, and are also
where undisturbed by the interactions. Thus, one way to ex-
|Ψ0 iL = |Ai|1} , (81) plain the fact that the state (8) is undisturbed by the in-
terference experiment is to note that every coherent state
1  
|Ψ1 iL = √ |Ai|1} − i|M i|0} , (82) would be undisturbed, so the convex sum of them will
2 also be undisturbed. One might naively expect that these
1  
properties cannot be generalized to fermionic states, be-
|Ψ2 iL = √ |Ai|1} − ie−iφ |M i|0} , (83)
2 cause it is not possible to define pure states of (single- or
|Ψ3 iL = cos(φ/2)|Ai|1} − sin(φ/2)|M i|0} . (84) multi-mode) fermionic systems that are eigenstates of an
annihilation operator.
Because the mode with which the system interacts is un- However, no convex decomposition should be preferred
known, the state of the laboratory at any particular stage over others. We can also view the mixed bosonic state of
“i” of the experiment may be written Eq. (8) as a Poissonian distribution of number states, as
h i in Eq. (9). In that case, it is the large uncertainty in total
WiL = S ǫ|AihA|⊗|0}{0|+(1−ǫ)|Ψi iL hΨi | ⊗σ ⊗K−1 ,

number that explains why the mixed state is undisturbed.
(85) One can appeal to this same sort of explanation in the
where, in a slight abuse of notation, it is understood that fermionic case. A skeptic might still claim that there is
S acts only on the K reference-frame modes and as iden- difference, namely, that ‘really’ the bosonic system is in a
tity on the system. It is straightforward to show that coherent state, and it is the non-disturbance to this ‘real’
12

state that is significant. However, to make this statement where cKN (·) is defined in Eq. (69) and where the states
is to commit the partition ensemble fallacy [41]. (N )
WiL are eigenstates of N̂2 with eigenvalue N . In the
Another possible distinction between these two states limit K → ∞, ǫ → 0 with Kǫ fixed, this expression
that a skeptic might claim to be important is that, in becomes
the fermionic case, there is classical information (the in-

teger j) indicating the mode of the reference frame with X (N )
lim WiL = pN (n̄)WiL , (90)
which the system interacted. If one considers the state
N =0
of this mode, then it is highly disturbed by the inter-
action. However, the classical uncertainty about which (N )
with n̄ = K(1 − ǫ), with the states WiL given by
mode was the mode of interaction ensures that the ref-
erence frame, as a whole, is undisturbed. This classical (N )
h i
uncertainty ensures that, if the experiment was repeated WiL = S |Ψi iL hΨi | ⊗ |~nN −1 }{~nN −1 | , (91)
many times, there is only a vanishing probability that
the system will interact with the same mode more than where ~nN −1 is the vector (1, 1, . . . , 1, 0, . . . , 0) with N − 1
once; thus, visibility is maintained for many runs of the ones and K − N zeros, S is the shuffling operator of
experiment. Eq. (79), and the states |Ψi iL are given by Eqs. (81)-
There are indeed significant differences between the (84). The fact that the states |Ψi iL are independent of
bosonic and fermionic states described here, in terms of N suggests an alternate partitioning of the Hilbert space,
how they can be used as reference frames. We discuss one as follows.
such difference in Sec. V B. However, we emphasize that, First note that our current tensor product structure
if one takes an operational view of these Ramsey-type for the Hilbert space, in terms of modes, is associated
interference experiments, then the bosonic and fermionic with the eigenvalues of the number operators
examples are completely equivalent in that they produce (1) (2) (K)
high-visibility fringes for potentially many repetitions of n̂M , n̂2 , n̂2 , . . . , n̂2 . (92)
the experiments.
We choose the following different set of commuting oper-
ators:
B. A relational description n̂M , N̂2 ,
(i) (i)
r̂2 ≡ n̂2 − n̂2
(i−1)
, i = 2, . . . , K . (93)

This experiment exhibits high-visibility Ramsey We note that the states |Ai|~n} and |M i|~n} are also eigen-
fringes, demonstrating coherence between a fermionic states of this new set of operators, specifically,
atom and a bosonic molecule. However, as with the ex-
periment illustrated in Sec. III A, the reduced density n̂M |Ai|~n} = 0 , (94)
operator for the system at all times during the experi- n̂M |M i|~n} = |M i|~n} , (95)
ment is diagonal in the |Ai, |M i basis. To observe the X
n(i) |Ai|~n} ,

coherence, one must instead look to a relational descrip- N̂2 |Ai|~n} = (96)
i
tion, which we now develop in analogy to that presented X
n(i) |M i|~n} ,

in Sec. III B. N̂2 |M i|~n} = 1 + (97)
First, we introduce some simplifying notation. Let i
~n be a vector in (Z2 )⊗K , i.e., a K-dimensional vector (i)
r̂2 |Ai|~n} = (n(i) − n(i−1) )|Ai|~n} , (98)
where each element n(i) is either zero or one. Then (i) (i) (i−1)
|~n} = |n(1) , n(2) , . . . , n(K) i is a Fock state of K fermionic r̂2 |M i|~n} = (n −n )|M i|~n} . (99)
modes.
Now, note that the states WiL of Eq. (85) are block- We note that in the limit ǫ → 0, the states we consider
diagonal in the eigenspaces of total number of atoms of have no support on the vector |Ai|0, 0, . . . , 0} and thus

type 2 (counting any atoms of type 2 which are bound we can focus our attention on the subspace HL of HL
into molecules as well). Defining a total type-2 atom that is orthogonal to this vector.

number operator We introduce a new tensor product structure on HL as
follows. We define a two-dimensional Hilbert space Hrel
K with an orthonormal basis denoted by |Airel and |M irel ,
(j) corresponding respectively to nM = 0 (no molecules)
X
N̂2 = n̂M + n̂2 , (88)
j=1 and nM = 1 (one molecule). We call this the relational
Hilbert space. We also define a Hilbert space Hgl which
(j) (j)† ˆ(j) has an orthonormal basis labelled by (N2 , ~r2 ), where ~r2
where n̂M = b̂†M b̂M and n̂2 = fˆ2 f2 , we can express
is the vector consisting of the eigenvalues of the opera-
(i)
K tors r̂2 for i = 2, 3, . . . , K. These labels are defined for
(K) (N ) N2 ≥ 1, and ~r2 consistent with this total type-2 atom
X
WiL = cN (1−ǫ)WiL , (89)
N =0 number N2 . We call this the global Hilbert space. Then,
13

because the spectra of n̂M and that of the operators N̂2 V. DISCUSSION
(i)
and r̂2 are independent, we have a virtual tensor prod-
uct structure A. Experimental Considerations

HL ≃ Hrel ⊗ Hgl , (100)
which is defined in terms of a linear map from HS ⊗ HR The above descriptions of our proposed experiments
to Hrel ⊗ Hgl in terms of their respective basis states as are clearly idealized and intended to illustrate the essen-
X (i)  tial physics. We now address some of the issues that may
arise in attempting to perform our proposed experiments

|Ai|~n} 7→ |Airel N2 = n2 , ~r2 gl , (101)
i in real systems of ultracold bosonic or fermionic atoms
X (i)  and molecules.
|M i|~n} 7→ |M irel N2 = 1 + n2 , ~r2 gl , (102)
i Both the bosonic and fermionic versions of our pro-
posed experiment require creation of mixtures of de-
(i) (i) (i−1)
where r2 = n2 − n2 . generate atoms of two different species. Such mix-
The states WiL of Eq. (90) are expressed in terms of tures have now been created with a number of differ-
this new tensor product structure as ent atomic species via the process of sympathetic cool-
ing [42, 43, 44, 45, 46]. In [42] a mixture of two BECs
WiL = |Ψi irel hΨi | ⊗ ρgl , (103) of different bosonic species, 41 K and 87 Rb was created.
where the states on the relational Hilbert space are pure, Furthermore the location of Feshbach resonances in these
given by two atomic species was estimated in [47]. We there-
fore consider these two species as good candidates for
|Ψ0 irel = |Airel , (104) implementing the bosonic version of our experiment de-
1   scribed in Sec. III. For the fermionic version of the exper-
|Ψ1 irel = √ |Airel − i|M irel , (105) iment described in Sec. IV we require a mixture of two
2
different fermionic species. While mixtures of bosonic
1  
|Ψ2 irel = √ |Airel − ie−iφ |M irel , (106) and fermionic species are common [43, 44, 45, 46], to
2 our knowledge simultaneous degeneracy of two different
|Ψ3 irel = cos(φ/2)|Airel − sin(φ/2)|M irel . (107) fermionic atom species has not yet been achieved exper-
imentally. However, a degenerate mixture of two differ-
The state ρgl on Hgl is identified via the following ob- ent spin states of the same fermionic atom has been cre-
servations about the shuffling operation S. First, if a ated [48], which would suffice as the two distinguishable
state ρ has support entirely within an eigenspace of the fermionic species for our purposes.
operators N̂2 and n̂M with eigenvalues N and nm , re-
spectively, then S[ρ] also has support entirely within Clearly one of the issues in performing the experiment,
this same eigenspace; intuitively, this is because sym- once appropriate atomic species have been chosen, is de-
metrization does not alter the total type-2 atom number, tection. We seem to require the ability to perform a pro-
or whether a type-2 atom is bound into a molecule or jective measurement of a single atom or molecule in order
not. (Recall that the shuffling operation acts only on the to observe the interference pattern, Eq. (33). The issue of
state of the reference frame.) Second, the shuffling oper- detecting single atoms also arises in the context of quan-
ation completely randomizes the eigenvalues of the oper- tum information processing (QIP) with neutral atoms in
ators r̂(i) , i.e., if ρ on HL′
has support entirely within an optical lattices and magnetic microtraps (see [49] for a re-
eigenspace of the operators N̂2 and n̂M with eigenvalue view of experimental progress, and references therein). It
N and nM , respectively, then S[ρ] is uniform mixture of may be possible to perform the projective measurement
′ of atom or molecule using the fiber-based Fabry-Perot
all states on HL that are eigenstates N̂2 and n̂M with
resonators described in [49].
the same eigenvalues.
Thus, the state ρgl is given by Alternatively, one may attempt to perform many

copies of the experiment simultaneously by beginning
X with an optical lattice containing atoms of the first
ρgl = pN (n̄)ΣN , (108)
species in the Mott-insulator regime at unit filling, so
N =0
that atoms in different lattice sites are essentially non-
where ΣN is the completely mixed state on the eigenspace interacting. Again, the creation of optical lattices con-
of N̂2 in Hgl with eigenvalue N . taining precisely one atom per site has been considered
Thus we see that having fermionic atoms does not in the context of QIP with neutral atoms [49]. We would
present any new difficulties compared to the case of then seem to require a separate BEC of the second atomic
bosonic atoms, so that one may interpret the fermionic species at each site to create distinct copies of the same
version of this interference experiment in precisely the experiment. However, this could be challenging experi-
same way that we interpreted the bosonic version, as de- mentally and given that we are working in the classical
scribed in Secs. III A 5 and III B. limit it may suffice to use a single BEC with a spatial
14

profile that overlaps the entire lattice8 . The interactions to be overcome. However many of the required ele-
could be implemented by tuning an external magnetic ments have been demonstrated individually. With the
field (uniform over the lattice) onto the Feshbach reso- rapid pace of progress in the field of ultracold atomic
nance. Free evolution could be implemented by switching physics, where molecular condensates, degenerate Fermi
off the external magnetic field for the desired period of gases and Bose-Fermi mixtures are all topics of much cur-
time. At the end of the experiment standard techniques rent interest, it is plausible that experiments of this type
should suffice to detect the number of atoms of the first may be performed in the near future. This would open
species present in the lattice (molecules being typically up the possibility of experimentally investigating the role
much more difficult to detect), and we would expect to of superselection rules in these systems.
see an interference pattern in this number as a function
of the free-evolution time.
Next, from a theoretical perspective, one may ques- B. Lifting superselection rules
tion whether the single-mode description used in Sec. III
is adequate for the BEC. For small BECs there is some If a superselection rule is completely lifted by the ex-
“quantum depletion” whereby some atoms do not occupy istence of an appropriate reference frame, meaning that
the condensate, even at zero temperature, due to interac- one can in principle perform any quantum operation as if
tions between the atoms [26]. However this effect is small the superselection rule did not exist, then one would ex-
(a few percent or less) in most current experiments, and pect to be able to perform an experiment on two systems
in any case we are concerned with the limit of a large BEC that exhibits a relative phase between these systems, in-
— precisely the limit in which the mean-field dynamics dependent of the reference frame. Specifically, one could
given by the Gross-Pitaevski equation become exact. generalize the methods we presented here to define a two-
For the experiment involving fermions described in system relational Hilbert space for the composite; states
Sec. IV both preparation of the initial state and imple- on this relational Hilbert space would describe the two
mentation of the interaction are likely to be far more dif- systems relative to the single reference frame. One would
ficult. We do not have any concrete suggestions for how expect that some degrees of freedom in this relational
this experiment might be performed, however we note Hilbert space describe the relation between the two sys-
that the initial state, Eq. (67), may be well-approximated tems themselves, independent of the reference frame. For
by fermions near the Fermi level at a small but non-zero example, one could perform measurements of observables
temperature, i.e. the different fermion modes are the mo- defined on the relational Hilbert space that provide in-
mentum modes close to the Fermi momentum. Alterna- formation about the relative phase of the two systems.
tively, it may be more convenient to use spatially iso- Consider the following experiment. Two two-level sys-
lated modes, such as the lattice sites in an optical lattice, tems such as those described in this paper are initially
as the multimode fermionic reference state. Fermionic prepared as single atoms. A π/2-pulse is performed on
atoms were confined to a three dimensional optical lat- the first system followed by a π/2-pulse on the second
tice in [48], so the reference state (67) could perhaps be system (both pulses being implemented by interaction
created by trapping slightly fewer atoms than the number with the reference frame), and then a phase shift φ is
of lattice sites, so that the vacant sites are randomly dis- applied to the second system. One would expect, then,
tributed. One must also address the issue of implement- that a measurement of the relative phase on the relational
ing the non-unitary coupling described by Eqs. (76-78). Hilbert space could yield information about φ. (One such
It may be possible to implement such a coupling using measurement would be the two-outcome projection onto
the Hamiltonian of Eq. (72) if the reference frame is kept the symmetric and antisymmetric subspaces of the rela-
in thermodynamic equilibrium with a particle heat bath tional Hilbert space. If the two systems are in phase,
that can replenish an exhausted fermionic mode. the symmetric outcome is obtained with certainty.) For
Finally, another question that must be addressed con- the bosonic reference frames explored in Sec. III, it is
cerns the timescales and mechanisms for decoherence. straightforward to show that this is indeed the case.
One might expect interactions with background atoms However, for the fermion reference frame introduced in
and molecules and with uncondensed thermal atoms to Sec. IV, such an experiment would be completely insensi-
cause the superpositions to decohere, but whether or not tive to φ. The reason for this insensitivity is that, for the
this would occur on a timescale shorter than is necessary interactions describing the π/2 pulses, each of the two
to observe the interference fringes has not been studied, systems would interact with a different random mode of
to our knowledge. the reference frame. As the individual reference-frame
Thus there are clearly many experimental challenges modes are uncorrelated in phase, the two systems would
also be uncorrelated.
Thus, although our second example of a Ramsey inter-
ference experiment exhibits a coherent superposition of
8 The variation in phase over the profile of the BEC is unlikely to a single fermionic atom and a bosonic molecule, we do
be relevant because, as we discussed above, the absolute phase not currently foresee how such an experiment can be di-
of the BEC is irrelevant to the interference pattern. rectly generalized to create arbitrary superposition states
15

of multiple systems. The form of reference frame used in the internal state of an atom, on the one hand, and for the
Sec. IV does not lift the superselection rule, but provides phase conjugate to charge, atom number, or univalence
only a demonstration of a violation of this rule in a single on the other, is that reference frames of the first sort are
system. ubiquitous while those of the latter sort are difficult to
prepare. Any rigid object can act as a reference frame
for spatial position, whereas a reference for the phase
VI. CONCLUSIONS conjugate to atom number presumably requires one to
have succeeded in the experimentally challenging task
We conclude by responding to some anticipated ob- of achieving and maintaining Bose-Einstein condensation
jections by a skeptic who questions that our gedanken- for that atomic species.
experiments would exhibit a coherent superposition of a Along these lines, we note that the recent demonstra-
single atom and a molecule. Suppose a skeptic asserted tions of Ramsey fringes in so-called “superconducting
that the only adequate description of the atom-molecule qubits” in a single-Cooper-pair box configuration [19]
interference experiments is the one wherein the BEC is is analogous in many ways to the experiments we pro-
internalized, that is, treated quantum mechanically. She pose here (see [50] for related theory). This experi-
could appeal to the fact that there is no coherence be- ment demonstrates coherence between states of differing
tween the states |Ai and |M i on HS in this description to charge, i.e., of states of a superconducting island which
argue that a coherent superposition of atom and molecule differ by charge 2e (the charge of a single Cooper pair).
had actually not been generated. We would of course dis- The reference frame for this system, which is used to im-
agree with the assessment that internalizing the reference plement the Ramsey pulses, is a nearby superconductor,
frame is the only way to obtain an adequate description the state of which – a BCS ground state – has an accu-
of the experiment, but leaving this aside, one can respond rate and successful description as a classical field. This
to such a skeptic by noting that this argument would also superconducting qubit experiment can be interpreted as
apply to the Ramsey experiment outlined in Sec. II. The violating a superselection rule for charge [4, 51], in direct
reason is that when the EM field in the Ramsey experi- analogy with the way that the interference experiments
ment is treated quantum mechanically, then the reduced proposed here can be interpreted as violating a superse-
density operator on the Hilbert space of the atom has no lection rule for atom-number.
coherence between the internal states |Ai and |Bi.
Thus, a skeptic could deny that we have demonstrated
the possibility of having a coherent superposition of atom Acknowledgments
and molecule, but then she would also have to deny that
the Ramsey interference experiment demonstrates coher- The authors gratefully acknowledge Howard Wiseman
ence between two internal states of an atom. In fact, for pointing out that the univalence superselection rules
the sort of argument the skeptic is presenting can be ap- has not been lifted, Dominic Berry for suggesting the
plied to essentially any degree of freedom that requires a method used to prove Eq. (A.14), and Andrew Doherty
reference frame for its definition. and David Poulin for helpful discussions. SDB acknowl-
For instance, suppose one internalized the reference edges support from the Australian Research Council. TR
frame for spatial orientation or for the spatial position acknowledges support from the Engineering and Physical
of a system. Then by exactly analogous arguments to Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom. RWS
those presented here, the reduced density operator on acknowledges support from the Royal Society.
the Hilbert space of the system would be found to be
an incoherent sum of angular momentum or linear mo-
mentum eigenstates. Thus, a dogmatic insistence on the
APPENDIX: PROOF THAT THE STATE OF THE
necessity of internalizing reference frames would lead one
FERMIONIC REFERENCE FRAME IS
in this context to conclude that it is impossible to prepare UNDISTURBED
coherent superpositions of angular momentum or linear
momentum eigenstates. But although the latter quanti-
ties are conserved, no one feels that it is fruitful to insist The state of the laboratory after the second π/2-pulse
on a superselection rule for them9 . is given by Eq. (85) using Eq. (84) as
The only real difference we can see between reference h i
W3L = S ǫ|AihA|⊗|0}{0|+(1−ǫ)|Ψ3iL hΨ3 | ⊗σ ⊗K−1 ,

frames for spatial orientation, position, or the phase of
(A.1)
with
9 An exception is found in some approaches to quantum gravity. |Ψ3 iL = cos(φ/2)|Ai|1} − sin(φ/2)|M i|0} . (A.2)
The argument for why such superselection rules should be in
force for descriptions of the quantum state of the universe is
precisely because there are no external references frames in such Consider the postselected states of the reference frame
a description. conditioned on measuring an atom or a molecule, given
16

by as our measure of the indistinguishability of two states ρ


and σ, where F = 1 implies that the states are completely
hA|W3L |Ai hM |W3L |M i indistinguishable. For states ρ =
P
r |iihi| and σ =
ρrf
A = , ρrf
M = , (A.3) i i
pA pM
P
i si |iihi| diagonal in the same basis the fidelity reduces
to
which occur with probabilities given by Eqs. (87) and
(86). These postselected states are diagonal in the
fermion-number basis and can be expressed as X√
F (ρ, σ) = ri si . (A.9)
K−1 i
1 X K−1 h 
ρrf ǫS |1}⊗n |0}K−n

A = c n (1−ǫ) Therefore the fidelity of these two states is
pA n=0
i
+ (1 − ǫ) cos2 (φ/2)S |1}⊗n+1 |0}K−n−1 ,

K−1
(A.4) Xq
F (ρ̃rf rf
A , ρM ) = cK−1 K−1
n−1 cn , (A.10)
K−1
X n=1
ρrf cK−1 ⊗n K−n
 
M = n (1−ǫ)S |1} |0} . (A.5) K−1 q 2
cK−1 cK−1 1 X
q
n=0 0 K−1 K−1 K−1
=1− − − cn−1 − cn ,
2 2 2 n=1
The postselected state conditioned on an atom, ρrf
A , can (A.11)
be written as a sum of two terms,
K−1 K−1
cK−1 c

1 X K−1
q q
≥1− 0 − K−1 − K−1

1 c − c n ,
ρrf ǫρrf 2 rf
 n−1
A = M + (1 − ǫ) cos (φ/2)ρ̃A , (A.6) 2 2 2 n=1
pA
(A.12)
where we define
= 1 − cK−1
0 − cK−1 K−1
K−1 − cmax , (A.13)
K
X → 1, (A.14)
ρ̃rf cK−1
 ⊗n K−n 
A = n−1 (1−ǫ)S |1} |0} . (A.7)
n=1

We now show that the postselected states ρrf A and ρM


rf
where cK−1 K−1
max = maxn cn is the probability of the most
are indistinguishable from each other, and from the ini- likely number of fermions (the floor or ceiling of the
tial state ρrf
0 , in the limit of K → ∞ for a fixed ǫ > 0. mean) and we have not written explicitly the dependence
The intuition for expecting this result is that the total on (1 − ǫ) of the binomial probabilities.
number of fermions in the reference frame is indetermi-
nate (a binomial distribution) so that in the limit of large Therefore from (A.6) it is clear that the fidelity
number of fermions, distributed in an even larger num- F (ρ̃rf rf
A , ρM ) between the two postselected states also ap-
ber of modes, we will not be able to tell if one of the proaches 1 in the limit K → ∞. Similar calculations
modes has interacted with the system and possibly lost show the same result for the postselected states of the
one fermion. The random coupling of the map EU en- reference frame at either of the intermediate times in the
sures that we do not know which fermion mode to look experiment, Eqs. (82) or (83) substituted into Eq. (85).
at. Furthermore either of the postselected states of the ref-
From (A.6) it is clear that the non-trivial step is to erence frame at any time during the experiment can be
show that ρ̃rf rf
A and ρM are indistinguishable in the limit. shown to have fidelity approaching 1 with the initial state
We will use the fidelity, defined as [40] ρrf
0 in the same limit. Therefore we have the result we
p  claimed — the reference frame is undisturbed by the in-
F (ρ, σ) = Tr ρ1/2 σρ1/2 (A.8) teraction in the limit of a large number of modes.

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