Abstract
In 1963 Glauber introduced the modern theory of quantum coherence^{1}, which extended the concept of firstorder (onebody) correlations, describing phase coherence of classical waves, to include higherorder (nbody) quantum correlations characterizing the interference of multiple particles. Whereas the quantum coherence of photons is a mature cornerstone of quantum optics, the quantum coherence properties of massive particles remain largely unexplored. To investigate these properties, here we use a uniquely correlated ^{2} source of atoms that allows us to observe nbody correlations up to the sixthorder at the ideal theoretical limit (n!). Our measurements constitute a direct demonstration of the validity of one of the most widely used theorems in quantum manybody theory—Wick’s theorem^{3}—for a thermal ensemble of massive particles. Measurements involving nbody correlations may play an important role in the understanding of thermalization of isolated quantum systems^{4} and the thermodynamics of exotic manybody systems, such as Efimov trimers^{5}.
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Glauber’s modern theory of optical coherence and the famous Hanbury Brown–Twiss effect^{6} were pivotal in the establishment of the field of quantum optics. Importantly, the definition of a coherent state required coherence to all orders, which for example distinguishes a monochromatic but incoherent thermal source of light from a truly coherent source such as a laser. Higherorder correlation functions therefore provide a more rigorous test of coherence.
Higherorder correlations, characterized by an nbody correlation function g^{(n)}, are of general interest and have been investigated in many fields of physics including astronomy^{6}, particle physics^{7}, quantum optics ^{8}, and quantum atom optics^{9}. In particular they have been a fruitful area of research in the field of quantum optics, where they have been used to investigate the properties of laser light, including heralded single photons^{10}, and the statistics of parametric downconversion sources^{11}. Stateoftheart quantum optics experiments have measured photon correlation functions up to sixth order for quasithermal sources^{8}, allowing the possibility of performing full quantum state tomography^{12}.
Higherorder correlations experiments with massive particles are currently approaching the same level of maturity as with photons. So far, experiments have directly observed correlations up to fourth order with singleatomsensitive detection techniques for ultracold atomic bosons^{9,13,14}, and secondorder correlations for an atomic source of fermions^{15} demonstrating the uniquely quantum mechanical property of atom–atom antibunching. Alternative, indirect techniques have also been employed to investigate higherorder correlations, including the measurements of twobody (photoassociation^{16}) and threebody^{17} loss rates that are sensitive, respectively, to second and thirdorder correlation functions. Interestingly, fermionic atom pairs^{18} and fermionic antibunching^{19} have also been observed in the atomic shot noise of absorption images.
In 1963, Glauber predicted that the maximal value of the samepoint normalized nbody correlation function g^{(n)} for thermal light is directly related to the order of the function by a simple relationship n! (ref. 1). This n! dependence is a consequence of Wick’s theorem^{3}, which enables higherorder correlations to be expressed using products of onebody correlation functions. The applicability of Wick’s theorem is not limited to just correlation functions for light, it has been also applied in many other fields; for example, it is commonly used in radioastronomy, nuclear physics^{7}, and generally in quantum field theory^{3}. The validity of Wick’s theorem has been demonstrated with thermal photons, however, so far there have been no direct measurements demonstrating its validity to higher orders for massive particles.
The (unnormalized) twobody spatial correlation function can be expressed as the probability of detecting two particles simultaneously at two particular locations r_{1} and r_{2}, where and are the field creation and annihilation operators. When normalized by the product of atomic densities at respective locations, the twobody correlation function for a thermal source can be expressed mathematically in terms of the onebody correlation function :
Likewise, the threebody correlation function can be written as a nested series, allowing it to be rewritten in terms of the lowerorder correlation functions (Wick’s theorem):
Similarly Wick’s theorem extends to higher orders, but we have omitted them for brevity.
Observing ideal bunching amplitudes requires the correlation length at the detector to be significantly larger than the detector resolution^{20}, which for massive thermal particles has proved challenging, with the maximum bunching amplitudes reported in the literature being at most ∼ 20% [g^{(2)}(0)≈1.2] of the ideal value of g^{(2)}(0) = 1.2 (ref. 21; see Supplementary Methods for the definition of the experimentally measured, volume integrated twobody correlation function at zero interparticle separation). To observe ideal bunching amplitudes, we have employed an ultracold cloud of partially transversely condensed^{2,22} ^{4}He* atoms in a strongly confining optical dipole trap (Fig. 1). This unique cloud can produce ideal bunching amplitudes even with the limited resolution available with current delayline detectors (∼100 μm spatially, ∼ 1 ns temporally). This is a result of the gas being transversely coherent, but longitudinally incoherent, where interference between the many longitudinal modes occurs over the entire transverse extent of the cloud.
The experiment is performed using a novel technique (Supplementary Information), where we produce ultracold clouds of ^{4}He* in a highly anisotropic optical dipole trap, aligned with its weak axis in the direction of gravity (zaxis). A simplified schematic of the experiment is shown in Fig. 1. The ultracold atomic cloud is at a temperature of just ∼ 60 nK and contains ∼ 330 atoms. To generate the required statistics, over 2,000 independent realizations of the experiment were undertaken. We measure spatial correlations after timeofflight expansion, by dropping the clouds onto a singleatomsensitive delayline detector located ∼ 85 cm below the trap. An average manybody correlation function can then be calculated.
The major result of this paper is illustrated in Fig. 2, where our nearideal manybody correlation functions g^{(n)}(Δz)≡g^{(n)}(Δz,…,Δz) (Supplementary Information) up to sixth order are shown as a function of interparticle separation along the longitudinal direction. The peak amplitudes for all the orders are in good agreement with the maximum value of n! expected for the nth order correlation function g^{(n)}(0) for a thermal gas.
To provide further detail on the threebody correlation function g^{(3)}(Δz) in Fig. 2b, we have also plotted in Fig. 3 a full 2D surface plot of the g^{(3)}(Δz_{1},Δz_{2})function to which g^{(3)}(Δz) = g^{(3)}(Δz,Δz) is the diagonal cut along Δz_{1} = Δz_{2}. To interpret the surface in Fig. 3, one should realize that the threebody interference term is maximum when all three particles are close together (that is, Δz_{1} = Δz_{2}∼0). On the other hand, when one of the particles is taken to large separation (that is, Δz_{i}≳2 mm in our case), one recovers the twobody correlation function from this plot, along the remaining dimension. The complete fourth, fifth, and sixthorder correlation functions, g^{(4)}(Δz_{1},Δz_{2},Δz_{3}), g^{(5)}(Δz_{1},Δz_{2},Δz_{3},Δz_{4}), g^{(6)}(Δz_{1},Δz_{2},Δz_{3},Δz_{4,},Δz_{5}) require four, five and sixdimensional plots respectively, so for clarity we have plotted these in Fig. 2c–e similarly to g^{(3)}, that is, for equal spatial separations for all particles.
For atomic systems this is the first reported measurement of the fifth and sixthorder correlation functions and, importantly, the measurements of the lowerorder correlations are up to two orders of magnitude greater in amplitude than previously reported^{13,14,21}. Remarkably, the measurement of the sixbody correlation function demonstrates that the probability of finding six particles at the same location is nearly three orders of magnitude greater than for large separations. Surprisingly, to our knowledge our near ideal sixthorder correlation measurement for massive thermal particles surpasses all measurements for thermal photons.
The peak bunching amplitudes (Fig. 2f) of the manybody correlation functions are in agreement with the expected n! dependence of Wick’s theorem for thermal particles, thus confirming the validity of quantum theory of boson statistics for massive particles up to the sixth order^{1}. Counterintuitively, the signal to noise ratio is approximately unchanged for all orders, owing to the signal from the bunching amplitude rapidly increasing, which compensates for the increased statistical noise due to a reduction in the number of multiparticle interference events for the higher orders. Ultimately, our finite flux limits the order of the correlation function we can accurately produce. Note, that the twobody correlation function, Fig. 2a, directly yields the longitudinal correlation length of the gas. However, for correlation functions greater than twobody, Fig. 2b–e, a compression of the width is observed owing to our effective bin size increasing.
We emphasize that the nature of the critical transition to a transversely condensed gas, which enabled us to measure higherorder correlations at their ideal limit, is a quantum degeneracy driven (rather than interaction driven^{23}) transition of an ideal Bose gas confined to a highly anisotropic trap. As discussed in refs 2, 22, this occurs owing to the saturation of population in the transversely excited states—hence the term ‘transverse condensation’. Our measurements of the transverse properties of the gas, including the fraction of the atoms in the transverse ground state and the transverse correlation functions (to be discussed elsewhere), are indeed in excellent agreement with the predictions of the theory for a harmonically trapped ideal Bose gas. On the other hand, the longitudinal properties of the gas, especially well below the critical temperature, are intermediate between the theory of a highly degenerate ideal Bose gas and a weakly interacting quasicondensate^{24}. Given the relatively small number of atoms in our clouds (a few hundred), we expect the finitesize effects to be significant, which means that the physics in the longitudinal dimension is dominated by broad crossovers between that of a pure noninteracting gas and of a weakly interacting gas approaching the quasicondensate regime. It is perhaps then not surprising that the measured longitudinal correlation length (394 μm) is significantly larger than that predicted by ideal Bose gas theory (95 μm), but shorter than that expected in the quasicondensate regime (∼ 850 μm; Supplementary Information). Nonetheless, we still expect the correlation functions we measure to satisfy the factorial relationship predicted by Wick’s theorem, as the equalpoint momentum–momentum correlation function is given by g^{(2)}(k,k)≈2 for both the ideal Bose gas and the weakly interacting quasicondensate regime^{24}.
In conclusion, we have measured nearideal manybody correlation functions in a thermal ensemble of ultracold ^{4}He* atoms and demonstrated the validity of Wick’s theorem for massive particles to sixth order. Our results show that quantum atom optics experiments can now rival, and in some cases exceed, the performance of quantum optics experiments. The ability to accurately measure photon–photon correlations in quantum optics has been pivotal in enabling some of the foundational tests of quantum mechanics, such as violations of Bell’s inequalities^{25,26} and the demonstration of Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen entanglement^{27}. Our correlation measurements with ultracold ^{4}He* atoms may pave the way for similar future quantum atom optics tests of the tenets of quantum mechanics for massive particles^{12}. Moreover, higherorder correlations may play an important role as accurate probes of the 3D condensates^{28}, as well as intriguing quantum states incorporating lower dimensions^{29} and other strongly correlated systems^{17}. Finally, they may also provide unambiguous evidence of p and dwave pairings^{30}, which may offer valuable insights into hightemperature superconductivity.
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Acknowledgements
A.G.T and K.V.K. acknowledge the support of the Australian Research Council through the Future Fellowship grants FT100100468 and FT100100285.
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S.S.H., R.G.D. and A.G.T. conceived the experiment. A.G.M., S.S.H. and W.R. collected the data presented in this Letter. K.V.K. developed the Bose model and provided theoretical insight into the results. All authors contributed to the conceptual formulation of the physics, the interpretation of the data and writing the manuscript.
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Dall, R., Manning, A., Hodgman, S. et al. Ideal nbody correlations with massive particles. Nature Phys 9, 341–344 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys2632
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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys2632
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