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Quantum decoherence is a physical process resulting from the entanglement of a system with environmental degrees of freedom. The entanglement allows the environment to behave like a measuring device on the initial system, resulting in the dynamical suppression of interference terms in mutually commuting bases. Because decoherence processes are extremely fast and often practically irreversible, measurements performed on the system after system–environment interactions typically yield outcomes empirically indistinguishable from physical collapse of the wave function. That is: environmental decoherence of a system’s phase relations produces effective eigenstates of a system in certain bases (depending on the details of the interaction) through prodigious damping—but not destruction—of the system’s off-diagonal terms in those bases. Although decoherence by itself is neither an interpretation of quantum physics nor indeed even new physics, there is much debate concerning the implications of this process in both the philosophical and the scientific literature. This is especially true regarding fundamental questions arising from quantum theory about the roles of measurement, observation, the nature of entanglement, and the emergence of classicality. In particular, acknowledging the part decoherence plays in interpretations of quantum mechanics recasts that debate in a new light.

Article

Todd A. Brun

Quantum error correction is a set of methods to protect quantum information—that is, quantum states—from unwanted environmental interactions (decoherence) and other forms of noise. The information is stored in a quantum error-correcting code, which is a subspace in a larger Hilbert space. This code is designed so that the most common errors move the state into an error space orthogonal to the original code space while preserving the information in the state. It is possible to determine whether an error has occurred by a suitable measurement and to apply a unitary correction that returns the state to the code space without measuring (and hence disturbing) the protected state itself. In general, codewords of a quantum code are entangled states. No code that stores information can protect against all possible errors; instead, codes are designed to correct a specific error set, which should be chosen to match the most likely types of noise. An error set is represented by a set of operators that can multiply the codeword state. Most work on quantum error correction has focused on systems of quantum bits, or qubits, which are two-level quantum systems. These can be physically realized by the states of a spin-1/2 particle, the polarization of a single photon, two distinguished levels of a trapped atom or ion, the current states of a microscopic superconducting loop, or many other physical systems. The most widely used codes are the stabilizer codes, which are closely related to classical linear codes. The code space is the joint +1 eigenspace of a set of commuting Pauli operators on n qubits, called stabilizer generators; the error syndrome is determined by measuring these operators, which allows errors to be diagnosed and corrected. A stabilizer code is characterized by three parameters [ [ n , k , d ] ] , where n is the number of physical qubits, k is the number of encoded logical qubits, and d is the minimum distance of the code (the smallest number of simultaneous qubit errors that can transform one valid codeword into another). Every useful code has n > k ; this physical redundancy is necessary to detect and correct errors without disturbing the logical state. Quantum error correction is used to protect information in quantum communication (where quantum states pass through noisy channels) and quantum computation (where quantum states are transformed through a sequence of imperfect computational steps in the presence of environmental decoherence to solve a computational problem). In quantum computation, error correction is just one component of fault-tolerant design. Other approaches to error mitigation in quantum systems include decoherence-free subspaces, noiseless subsystems, and dynamical decoupling.

Article

Quantum Mechanics is one of the most successful theories of nature. It accounts for all known properties of matter and light, and it does so with an unprecedented level of accuracy. On top of this, it generated many new technologies that now are part of daily life. In many ways, it can be said that we live in a quantum world. Yet, quantum theory is subject to an intense debate about its meaning as a theory of nature, which started from the very beginning and has never ended. The essence was captured by Schrödinger with the cat paradox: why do cats behave classically instead of being quantum like the one imagined by Schrödinger? Answering this question digs deep into the foundation of quantum mechanics. A possible answer is Dynamical Collapse Theories. The fundamental assumption is that the Schrödinger equation, which is supposed to govern all quantum phenomena (at the non-relativistic level) is only approximately correct. It is an approximation of a nonlinear and stochastic dynamics, according to which the wave functions of microscopic objects can be in a superposition of different states because the nonlinear effects are negligible, while those of macroscopic objects are always very well localized in space because the nonlinear effects dominate for increasingly massive systems. Then, microscopic systems behave quantum mechanically, while macroscopic ones such as Schrödinger’s cat behave classically simply because the (newly postulated) laws of nature say so. By changing the dynamics, collapse theories make predictions that are different from quantum-mechanical predictions. Then it becomes interesting to test the various collapse models that have been proposed. Experimental effort is increasing worldwide, so far limiting values of the theory’s parameters quantifying the collapse, since no collapse signal was detected, but possibly in the future finding such a signal and opening up a window beyond quantum theory.