Quantum states inevitably decay with time into a probabilistic mixture of classical states due to their interaction with the environment and measurement instrumentation. We present the first measurement of the decoherence dynamics of complex photon states in a condensed-matter system. By controllably preparing a number of distinct quantum-superposed photon states in a superconducting microwave resonator, we show that the subsequent decay dynamics can be quantitatively described by taking into account only two distinct decay channels: energy relaxation and pure dephasing. Our ability to prepare specific initial quantum states allows us to measure the evolution of specific elements in the quantum density matrix in a very detailed manner that can be compared with theory.
- Received 29 July 2009
©2009 American Physical Society