Breaking time-inversion invariance through decoherence — Energetic consequences for attosecond neutron scattering
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Nuclei and electrons in condensed matter and/or molecules are usually entangled, due to the prevailing (mainly electromagnetic) interactions. However, the "environment" of a microscopic scattering system (e.g. a proton) causes ultrafast decoherence, thus making atomic and/or nuclear entanglement effects not directly accessible to experiments. However, our neutron Compton scattering experiments from protons (H-atoms) in condensed systems and molecules have a characteristic collisional time about 100-1000 attoseconds. The quantum dynamics of an atom in this ultrashort, but finite, time window is governed by non-unitary time evolution due to the aforementioned decoherence. Unexpectedly, recent theoretical investigations have shown that decoherence can also have the following energetic consequences. Disentangling two subsystems A and B of a quantum system AB is tantamount to erasure of quantum phase relations between A and B. This erasure is widely believed to be an innocuous process, which e.g. does not affect the energies of A and B. However, two independent groups proved recently that disentangling two systems, within a sufficiently short time interval, causes increase of their energies. This is also derivable by the simplest Lindblad-type master equation of one particle being subject to pure decoherence. Our neutron-proton scattering experiments with H2 molecules provide for the first time experimental evidence of this effect. Our results reveal that the neutron-proton collision, leading to the cleavage of the H-H bond in the attosecond timescale, is accompanied by larger energy transfer (by about 2-3%) than conventional theory predicts. Preliminary results from current investigations show qualitatively the same effect in the neutron-deuteron Compton scattering from D2 molecules. We interpret the experimental findings by treating the neutron-proton (or neutron-deuteron) collisional system as an entangled open quantum system being subject to fast decoherence caused by its "environment" (i.e., two electrons plus second nucleus of H2 or D2). The presented results seem to be of generic nature, and may have considerable consequences for various processes in condensed matter and molecules, e.g. in elementary chemical reactions.
Journal of Physics: Conference Series
Quantum Physics not elsewhere classified