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A complementarity experiment with an interferometer at the quantum–classical boundary

Abstract

To illustrate the quantum mechanical principle of complementarity, Bohr1 described an interferometer with a microscopic slit that records the particle's path. Recoil of the quantum slit causes it to become entangled with the particle, resulting in a kind of Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen pair2. As the motion of the slit can be observed, the ambiguity of the particle's trajectory is lifted, suppressing interference effects. In contrast, the state of a sufficiently massive slit does not depend on the particle's path; hence, interference fringes are visible. Although many experiments illustrating various aspects of complementarity have been proposed3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and realized10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18, none has addressed the quantum–classical limit in the design of the interferometer. Here we report an experimental investigation of complementarity using an interferometer in which the properties of one of the beam-splitting elements can be tuned continuously from being effectively microscopic to macroscopic. Following a recent proposal19, we use an atomic double-pulse Ramsey interferometer20, in which microwave pulses act as beam-splitters for the quantum states of the atoms. One of the pulses is a coherent field stored in a cavity, comprising a small, adjustable mean photon number. The visibility of the interference fringes in the final atomic state probability increases with this photon number, illustrating the quantum to classical transition.

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Figure 1: Sketch of an interferometer with a recoiling slit, adapted from Bohr1.
Figure 2: Mach–Zehnder and Ramsey versions of Bohr's experiment.
Figure 3: From quantum to classical interferometer.
Figure 4: The unconditional quantum-eraser experiment.

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Acknowledgements

Laboratoire Kastler Brossel is Unité Mixte de Recherches of Ecole Normale Supérieure, Université P. et M. Curie and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. This work was supported by the Commission of the European Community and by the Japan Science and Technology Corporation (International Cooperative Research Project, Quantum Entanglement Project).

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Bertet, P., Osnaghi, S., Rauschenbeutel, A. et al. A complementarity experiment with an interferometer at the quantum–classical boundary. Nature 411, 166–170 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35075517

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