Emergence of a Measurement Basis in Atom-Photon Scattering

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Science  08 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6124, pp. 1187-1191
DOI: 10.1126/science.1229650

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Characterizing Quantum Measurement

In the classical world, the result of measurement is often viewed as independent of the experimental apparatus. In the quantum world, however, the act of measurement has an effect through processes such as back-action, entanglement, and decoherence. Looking at the scattering of single electrons from a single ion and the evolution of the spin state of that ion, Glickman et al. (p. 1187) probed how these processes are intertwined and characterize how the result of quantum measurement emerges from the system's interaction with its environment.


After measurement, a wave-function is postulated to collapse on a predetermined set of states—the measurement basis. Using quantum process tomography, we show how a measurement basis emerges in the evolution of the electronic spin of a single trapped atomic ion after spontaneous photon scattering and detection. This basis is determined by the excitation laser polarization and the direction along which the photon was detected. Quantum tomography of the combined spin-photon state reveals that although photon scattering entangles all superpositions of the measurement-basis states with the scattered photon polarization, the measurement-basis states themselves remain classically correlated with it. Our findings shed light on the process of quantum measurement in atom-photon interactions.

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