Scientists realized the first Fermiscale single-particle double-slit interference experiment

The high-energy nuclear physics research group of the University of Science and Technology of China and the joint research team of Brookhaven National Laboratory and Shandong University in the United States played a leading role in the STAR international cooperation group, and for the first time realized the Fermi-scale single-particle double-slit interference experiment with the unstable particle-short-lived vector meson (ρ0) as the entity during the collision of high-energy heavy ions, and used the linear polarization characteristics of the process to observe the interference phenomenon in polarized space. The findings were published Jan. 4 in Science Advances.


Schematic diagram of double-slit interference of ρ0 mesons and measurement results of second-order cosine modulation coefficient of decay angle Courtesy of China University of Science and Technology

Wave-particle duality is the cornerstone principle of quantum mechanics and one of the sources of “counter-common sense” and “counter-intuition” of quantum mechanics. The single-particle double-slit interference thought experiment can very directly interpret wave-particle duality from the phenomenon. For nearly half a century, experimentalists have successively realized this thought experiment using photons, electrons, atoms, molecules and biological macromolecules as interfering entities. So, can unstable particles, which are common in high-energy nuclear physics experiments, also be able to produce double-slit interference as entities?

STAR’s research team used the coherently photogenerated unstable particle ρ0 (lifetime of about 1 ferm/speed of light) in the collision of very high-energy atomic nuclei as an interfering entity to achieve a Fermi-scale double-slit interference experiment, which is also the smallest double-slit interference experiment at present. In a gold-nucleus-nucleus collision, both colliding nuclei can serve as target nuclei (“slits”) for ρ0 meson scattering, thus forming interference. The ρ0 meson produced by this process is completely linearly polarized, and its decay products tend to move in the polarization direction, resulting in periodic changes in the second-order cosine modulation of the decay angle with the magnitude of ρ0 meson transverse momentum, which is the first embodiment of the double-slit interference phenomenon in the polarization space. Interestingly, the typical distance between the two “slits” in these collisions is about 20 ferm, which is much greater than the distance that ρ0 mesons can reach before decaying, indicating that the ρ0 meson wavefunction from the two “slits” decays before meeting overlap, and the double-slit interference of ρ0 mesons is actually produced by the synergy of their decay products (such as π+π-pairs). These decaying π+π- interfering with the “space-time” synergy is an excellent model for interpreting the phenomenon of quantum entanglement.

Wangmei Cha, Associate Professor of Particle Physics and Nuclear Physics at the School of Physics, University of Science and Technology of China, is the lead author of this collaborative group paper and has made outstanding contributions to experimental analysis. In addition, Zha Wangmei also established a related phenomenological theoretical model, and conducted theoretical research on the double-slit interference of coherent photoinduced products in the collision of very high-energy nuclei, which has important guiding significance for experimental measurement.

STAR is a large-scale international cooperation group based on the STAR experiment at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the United States, consisting of more than 700 researchers from 71 units in 14 countries. The High Energy Nuclear Physics Research Group of China University of Science and Technology is an important research force of STAR International Cooperation Group. (Source: Wang Min, China Science News)

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