Approach to coherent interference fringes in helium-surface scattering


Schram, M.C. & Heller, E.J. Approach to coherent interference fringes in helium-surface scattering. Phys. Rev. A 98, 022137 (2018).


The conventional notion of elastic, coherent atom-surface scattering originates from the scattering particles acting as a quantum mechanical matter wave, which coherently interfere to produce distinct Bragg peaks which persist at finite temperature. If we introduce inelastic scattering to this scenario, the result is that the surface particles become displaced by the scattering atoms, resulting in emission or absorption of phonons that shift the final energy and momentum of the scatterer. As the lowest lying phonons are gapless excitations, the ability to measure these phonons is very difficult and this difficulty is exacerbated by the roughly 1eV resolution found in high energy helium scattering experiments. Even though the surface has, in effect, measured the presence of the scatterer which decoheres the particle, we retain the diffraction spots which are referred to as coherent scattering. How do we reconcile these disparate viewpoints? We propose a new experiment to more precisely examine the question of coherence in atom-surface scattering. We begin with an initially coherent superposition of helium particles with equal probabilities of interacting with the surface or not interacting with the surface. The beams are directed so that after the scattering event, the atoms are recombined so that we can observe the resulting interference pattern. The degree to which phonons are excited in the lattice by the scattering process dictates the fringe contrast of the interference pattern of the resulting beams. We use semiclassical techniques to simulate and test the viability of this experiment, and show that for a wide range of conditions, despite the massive change in the momentum perpendicular to the surface, we can still expect to have coherent (in the superposition sense) scattering.

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Last updated on 11/07/2018