Nonlinear atom interferometer surpasses classical precision limit

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Interference is fundamental to wave dynamics and quantum mechanics. The quantum wave properties of particles are exploited in metrology using atom interferometers, allowing for high-precision inertia measurements1,2. Furthermore, the state-of-the-art time standard is based on an interferometric technique known as Ramsey spectroscopy. However, the precision of an interferometer is limited by classical statistics owing to the finite number of atoms used to deduce the quantity of interest3. Here we show experimentally that the classical precision limit can be surpassed using nonlinear atom interferometry with a Bose–Einstein condensate. Controlled interactions between the atoms lead to non-classical entangled states within the interferometer; this represents an alternative approach to the use of non-classical input states4,5,6,7,8. Extending quantum interferometry9 to the regime of large atom number, we find that phase sensitivity is enhanced by 15 per cent relative to that in an ideal classical measurement. Our nonlinear atomic beam splitter follows the ‘one-axis-twisting’ scheme10 and implements interaction control using a narrow Feshbach resonance. We perform noise tomography of the quantum state within the interferometer and detect coherent spin squeezing with a squeezing factor of -8.2 dB (refs 11–15). The results provide information on the many-particle quantum state, and imply the entanglement of 170 atoms16.

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Figure 1: Comparison of linear and nonlinear interferometry.
Figure 2: Direct experimental demonstration of precision beyond the standard quantum limit.
Figure 3: Characterization of the quantum state within the nonlinear interferometer.


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We thank J.-P. Ronzheimer for technical assistance throughout the realization of this project and acknowledge discussions with Y. Li and A. Sinatra. We gratefully acknowledge support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the German-Israeli Foundation, the Heidelberg Center of Quantum Dynamics, the ExtreMe Matter Institute and the European Commission Future and Emerging Technologies Open Scheme project MIDAS (Macroscopic Interference Devices for Atomic and Solid-State Systems). C.G. acknowledges support from the Landesgraduiertenförderung Baden-Württemberg.

Author Contributions All authors contributed extensively to the work presented in this paper.

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Correspondence to M. K. Oberthaler.

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Gross, C., Zibold, T., Nicklas, E. et al. Nonlinear atom interferometer surpasses classical precision limit. Nature 464, 1165–1169 (2010) doi:10.1038/nature08919

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