Can neutrons be located at a different place than their own spin? A quantum experiment, carried out by a team of researchers from the Vienna University of Technology, demonstrates a new kind of quantum paradox
The Cheshire Cat featured in Lewis Caroll's novel "Alice in Wonderland" is a remarkable creature: it disappears, leaving its grin behind. Can an object be separated from its properties? It is possible in the quantum world. In an experiment, neutrons travel along a different path than one of their properties – their magnetic moment. This "Quantum Cheshire Cat" could be used to make high precision measurements less sensitive to external perturbations.
The basic idea of the Quantum Cheshire Cat: In an interferometer, an object is separated from one if its properties -- like a cat, moving on a different path than its own grin.
Credit: TU Vienna / Leon Filter
At Different Places at Once
According to the law of quantum physics, particles can be in different physical states at the same time. If, for example, a beam of neutrons is divided into two beams using a silicon crystal, it can be shown that the individual neutrons do not have to decide which of the two possible paths they choose. Instead, they can travel along both paths at the same time in a quantum superposition.
"This experimental technique is called neutron interferometry", says Professor Yuji Hasegawa from the Vienna University of Technology. "It was invented here at our institute in the 1970s, and it has turned out to be the perfect tool to investigate fundamental quantum mechanics."
To see if the same technique could separate the properties of a particle from the particle itself, Yuji Hasegawa brought together a team including Tobis Denkmayr, Hermann Geppert and Stephan Sponar, together with Alexandre Matzkin from CNRS in France, Professor Jeff Tollaksen from Chapman University in California and Hartmut Lemmel from the Institut Laue-Langevin to develop a brand new quantum experiment.
The experiment was done at the neutron source at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, where a unique kind of measuring station is operated by the Viennese team, supported by Hartmut Lemmel from ILL.
Where is the Cat …?
Neutrons are not electrically charged, but they carry a magnetic moment. They have a magnetic direction, the neutron spin, which can be influenced by external magnetic fields.
First, a neutron beam is split into two parts in a neutron interferometer. Then the spins of the two beams are shifted into different directions: The upper neutron beam has a spin parallel to the neutrons' trajectory, the spin of the lower beam points into the opposite direction. After the two beams have been recombined, only those neutrons are chosen, which have a spin parallel to their direction of motion. All the others are just ignored. "This is called postselection", says Hermann Geppert. "The beam contains neutrons of both spin directions, but we only analyse part of the neutrons."
These neutrons, which are found to have a spin parallel to its direction of motion, must clearly have travelled along the upper path - only there, the neutrons have this spin state. This can be shown in the experiment. If the lower beam is sent through a filter which absorbs some of the neutrons, then the number of the neutrons with spin parallel to their trajectory stays the same. If the upper beam is sent through a filter, than the number of these neutrons is reduced.
… and Where is the Grin?
Things get tricky, when the system is used to measure where the neutron spin is located: the spin can be slightly changed using a magnetic field. When the two beams are recombined appropriately, they can amplify or cancel each other. This is exactly what can be seen in the measurement, if the magnetic field is applied at the lower beam – but that is the path which the neutrons considered in the experiment are actually never supposed to take. A magnetic field applied to the upper beam, on the other hand, does not have any effect.
"By preparing the neurons in a special initial state and then postselecting another state, we can achieve a situation in which both the possible paths in the interferometer are important for the experiment, but in very different ways", says Tobias Denkmayr. "Along one of the paths, the particles themselves couple to our measurement device, but only the other path is sensitive to magnetic spin coupling. The system behaves as if the particles were spatially separated from their properties."
High Hopes for High-Precision Measurements
This counter intuitive effect is very interesting for high precision measurements, which are very often based on the principle of quantum interference. "When the quantum system has a property you want to measure and another property which makes the system prone to perturbations, the two can be separated using a Quantum Cheshire Cat, and possibly the perturbation can be minimized", says Stephan Sponar.
The idea of the Quantum Cheshire Cat was first discovered by Prof. Yakir Aharonov and first published by Aharonov's collaborator, Prof. Jeff Tollaksen (both now from Chapman University), in 2001. The measurements which have now been presented are the first experimental proof of this phenomenon. The experimental results have been published in the journal "Nature Communications".
Prof. Yuji Hasegawa
Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics,
Stadionallee 2, 1020 Vienna
Florian Aigner | Eurek Alert!
Graphene microphone outperforms traditional nickel and offers ultrasonic reach
27.11.2015 | Institute of Physics
Tracking down the 'missing' carbon from the Martian atmosphere
25.11.2015 | California Institute of Technology
Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.
Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.
In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...
In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.
Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...
Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...
25.11.2015 | Event News
17.11.2015 | Event News
21.10.2015 | Event News
27.11.2015 | Press release
27.11.2015 | Life Sciences
27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences