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Universal decoherence due to gravitational time dilation

Nature Physics volume 11, pages 668672 (2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

The physics of low-energy quantum systems is usually studied without explicit consideration of the background spacetime. Phenomena inherent to quantum theory in curved spacetime, such as Hawking radiation, are typically assumed to be relevant only for extreme physical conditions: at high energies and in strong gravitational fields. Here we consider low-energy quantum mechanics in the presence of gravitational time dilation and show that the latter leads to the decoherence of quantum superpositions. Time dilation induces a universal coupling between the internal degrees of freedom and the centre of mass of a composite particle. The resulting correlations lead to decoherence in the particle position, even without any external environment. We also show that the weak time dilation on Earth is already sufficient to affect micrometre-scale objects. Gravity can therefore account for the emergence of classicality and this effect could in principle be tested in future matter-wave experiments.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M. Arndt, M. Aspelmeyer, L. Diosi and M. Vanner for discussions and S. Eibenberger for providing us with the illustration of the TPPF20 molecule. This work was supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) through the doctoral program Complex Quantum Systems (CoQuS), the Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology (VCQ), the SFB FoQuS and the Individual Project 24621, by the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi), the John Templeton Foundation, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (grant number CE110001013), the European Commission through RAQUEL (No. 323970) and the COST Action MP1209.

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Affiliations

  1. Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology (VCQ), University of Vienna, Faculty of Physics, Boltzmanngasse 5 A-1090 Vienna, Austria

    • Igor Pikovski
    • , Magdalena Zych
    • , Fabio Costa
    •  & Časlav Brukner
  2. Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI), Austrian Academy of Sciences, Boltzmanngasse 3 A-1090 Vienna, Austria

    • Igor Pikovski
    • , Magdalena Zych
    • , Fabio Costa
    •  & Časlav Brukner
  3. ITAMP, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Igor Pikovski
  4. Department of Physics, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Igor Pikovski
  5. Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems, School of Mathematics and Physics, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia

    • Magdalena Zych
    •  & Fabio Costa

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I.P., M.Z., F.C. and Č.B. contributed to all aspects of the research, with the leading input from I.P.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Igor Pikovski.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys3366

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