Quantum decoherence

Quantum decoherence

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In quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, quantum decoherence is the loss of coherence
Coherence (physics)
In physics, coherence is a property of waves that enables stationary interference. More generally, coherence describes all properties of the correlation between physical quantities of a wave....

 or ordering of the phase angle
Phase angle
In the context of vectors and phasors, the term phase angle refers to the angular component of the polar coordinate representation. The notation A\ang \!\ \theta,   for a vector with magnitude A and phase angle θ, is called angle notation.In the context of periodic phenomena, such as a wave,...

s between the components of a system in a quantum superposition
Quantum superposition
Quantum superposition is a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics. It holds that a physical system exists in all its particular, theoretically possible states simultaneously; but, when measured, it gives a result corresponding to only one of the possible configurations.Mathematically, it...

. A consequence of this dephasing
Dephasing
Dephasing is a name for the mechanism that recovers classical behavior from a quantum system. It is an important effect in condensed matter physics, particularly in the study of mesoscopic devices...

 leads to classical or probabilistically additive behavior. Quantum decoherence gives the appearance of wave function collapse (the reduction of the physical possibilities into a single possibility as seen by an observer) and justifies the framework and intuition of classical physics
Classical physics
What "classical physics" refers to depends on the context. When discussing special relativity, it refers to the Newtonian physics which preceded relativity, i.e. the branches of physics based on principles developed before the rise of relativity and quantum mechanics...

 as an acceptable approximation: decoherence is the mechanism by which the classical limit
Classical limit
The classical limit or correspondence limit is the ability of a physical theory to approximate or "recover" classical mechanics when considered over special values of its parameters. The classical limit is used with physical theories that predict non-classical behavior...

 emerges out of a quantum starting point and it determines the location of the quantum-classical boundary. Decoherence occurs when a system interacts with its environment in a thermodynamically irreversible
Irreversibility
In science, a process that is not reversible is called irreversible. This concept arises most frequently in thermodynamics, as applied to processes....

 way. This prevents different elements in the quantum superposition
Quantum superposition
Quantum superposition is a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics. It holds that a physical system exists in all its particular, theoretically possible states simultaneously; but, when measured, it gives a result corresponding to only one of the possible configurations.Mathematically, it...

 of the system+environment's wavefunction
Wavefunction
Not to be confused with the related concept of the Wave equationA wave function or wavefunction is a probability amplitude in quantum mechanics describing the quantum state of a particle and how it behaves. Typically, its values are complex numbers and, for a single particle, it is a function of...

 from interfering with each other. Decoherence has been a subject of active research since the 1980s.