Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When does the wavefunction collapse in nuclear collisions?

I had some great discussions today at ANU with Cedric Simenel and David Hinde about decoherence in nuclear collisions. One of the key issues became clearer to me. Suppose a projectile nucleus in its ground state |P> collides with a target nucleus in its ground state |T>. After the collision one observes the projectile to be in state |P> with probability |a|^2 and in state |P*> with probability |b|^2.
Simple scattering theory would say that the state of the whole system is
|Psi> = a |P>|T> + b |P*>|T*>
and the reduced density matrix for P has non-zero off-diagonal terms which only disappear after the measurement is made by the detectors.

However, I suspect that if the nuclei are large enough (i.e., have enough internal degrees of freedom) then the collision itself will decohere the superposition.

So, which is the correct picture? Presumably there is a "quantum-classical" crossover as the nuclei get heavier? Are there smoking gun experiments (e.g., Mott scattering of identical particles) to distinguish the two pictures?

1 comment:

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