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Wave–particle duality of C60 molecules


Quantum superposition lies at the heart of quantum mechanics and gives rise to many of its paradoxes. Superposition of de Broglie matter waves1 has been observed for massive particles such as electrons2, atoms and dimers3, small van der Waals clusters4, and neutrons5. But matter wave interferometry with larger objects has remained experimentally challenging, despite the development of powerful atom interferometric techniques for experiments in fundamental quantum mechanics, metrology and lithography6. Here we report the observation of de Broglie wave interference of C60 molecules by diffraction at a material absorption grating. This molecule is the most massive and complex object in which wave behaviour has been observed. Of particular interest is the fact that C60 is almost a classical body, because of its many excited internal degrees of freedom and their possible couplings to the environment. Such couplings are essential for the appearance of decoherence7,8, suggesting that interference experiments with large molecules should facilitate detailed studies of this process.

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Figure 1: Diagram of the experimental set-up (not to scale).
Figure 2: Interference pattern produced by C60 molecules.

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We thank M. Haluška, H. Kuzmany, R. Penrose, P. Scheier, J. Schmiedmayer and G. Senn for discussions. This work was supported by the Austrian Science Foundation FWF, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the TMR programme of the European Union, and the US NSF.

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Correspondence to Anton Zeilinger.

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Arndt, M., Nairz, O., Vos-Andreae, J. et al. Wave–particle duality of C60 molecules. Nature 401, 680–682 (1999).

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