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Original Title: Violation of the Leggett-Garg Inequality in Neutrino Oscillations

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA

ments on a system at different times, stands as one of the hallmark tests of quantum mechanics

against classical predictions. The phenomenon of neutrino oscillations should adhere to quantum-

mechanical predictions and provide an observable violation of the Leggett-Garg inequality. We

demonstrate how oscillation phenomena can be used to test for violations of the classical bound by

performing measurements on an ensemble of neutrinos at distinct energies, as opposed to a single

neutrino at distinct times. A study of the MINOS experiment’s data shows a greater than 6σ viola-

tion over a distance of 735 km, representing the longest distance over which either the Leggett-Garg

inequality or Bell’s inequality has been tested.

arXiv:1602.00041v3 [quant-ph] 28 Jul 2016

vor oscillations occur because the flavor states are dis-

Perhaps one of the most counterintuitive aspects of tinct from the neutrino mass states; in particular, a given

quantum mechanics is the principle of superposition, flavor state may be represented as a coherent superposi-

which stipulates that an entity can exist simultaneously tion of the different mass states [20, 21]. Neutrino fla-

in multiple different states. Bell and others indicated how vor oscillations may be treated with the same formalism

experiments could distinguish between classical systems that is typically used to describe other systems displaying

and those that demonstrate quantum superposition [1, 2]. quantum coherence, such as squeezed atomic states [22].

Bell’s inequality concerns correlations among measure- The major difference between neutrinos and these fa-

ments on spatially separated systems. Leggett and Garg miliar systems, however, is that the coherence length of

developed an analogous test that concerns correlations neutrino oscillations—the length over which interference

among measurements performed on a system at different occurs and oscillations may be observed—extends over

times, and they extended this test to apply to macro- vast distances, even astrophysical scales [23]. An LGI

scopic entities [3]. Sometimes referred to as the “time- experiment using neutrino oscillations therefore presents

analogue” of Bell’s inequality, the Leggett-Garg inequal- a stark contrast to other types of LGI tests, which typ-

ity (LGI) allows for a complementary test of quantum ically use photons, electrons, or nuclear spins, for which

mechanics while potentially avoiding some of the diffi- coherence distances are much more constrained [8].

culties involved in performing a truly loophole-free test Experimental violations of the LGI can lead to defini-

of Bell’s inequality [4–7]. See [8] for a recent review. tive conclusions about “realism” only if the measurement

The original goal of LGI tests was to demonstrate outcomes represent the underlying time evolution of the

macroscopic coherence—that is, that quantum mechan- system. Invasive measurements, characterized either by

ics applies on macroscopic scales up to the level at which wavefunction collapse or by experimental imperfections

many-particle systems exhibit decoherence [3, 8–12]. For that classically disrupt the system, would prevent an ex-

this reason, a major focus of recent LGI research has been perimenter from ruling out realistic alternatives to quan-

scaling up to tests with macroscopic systems. tum mechanics, even in the face of an apparent violation

LGI tests have another purpose: to test “realism,” the of the LGI. Several experiments have worked to bypass

notion that physical systems possess complete sets of def- this limitation by using indirect or weak measurements

inite values for various parameters prior to, and inde- to probe the system [11, 14, 15].

pendent of, measurement. “Realism” is often encoded In the case of neutrino flavor oscillations, it is possible

in hidden-variable theories, which allow for systems that to circumvent the problems posed by invasivity by per-

are treated as identical according to quantum mechan- forming measurements on members of an identically pre-

ics to be fundamentally distinguishable through a hidden pared ensemble; this obviates the issue of whether indi-

set of parameters that they possess, such that any mea- vidual measurements influence one another. When com-

surement on a system reveals a pre-existing value [13]. bined with a separate assumption of “stationarity”—such

LGI violations imply that such hidden-variable (or “re- that the correlations between different measurements de-

alistic”) alternatives to quantum mechanics cannot ade- pend only on the durations between them, rather than on

quately describe a system’s time evolution. Experiments their individual times—the prepared-ensemble condition

using few-particle systems can test “realism” even if they allows one to test particular classes of “realistic” alterna-

do not directly address macrorealism [13–19]. tives to quantum mechanics [8, 9, 13, 17]. Although the

Neutrino flavor oscillations, which are coherent in the idea of testing the LGI and related measures of quantum

few-particle limit, provide an interesting system with entanglement using neutrino oscillations has been pro-

which to test the LGI. Neutrinos have been detected in posed in the literature [24–26], we believe this is the first

three distinct “flavors,” which interact in particular ways such empirical test to be performed.

2

on distinct members of an identically prepared ensemble,

We consider a dichotomic observable Q̂ (with realiza- each of which begins in some known initial state.

tions ±1) that may be measured at various times ti . The Stationarity allows for measurements made on distinct

correlation between measurements at times ti and tj can ensemble members to mimic a series of measurements

be written made on a single time-evolving system. For example, in

order to construct K3 , we take advantage of the fact that

Cij ≡ hQ̂(ti )Q̂(tj )i, (1) C23 in one system is equivalent to the correlation between

measurements separated by time τ = t3 −t2 on a different

where h...i indicates averaging over many trials. For mea- member of the ensemble.

surements at n distinct times, we may define the Leggett- The combination of the prepared-ensemble and sta-

Garg parameter Kn as tionarity conditions therefore acts as a substitute for

measurement schemes intended to be non-invasive (e.g.,

n−1

X weak measurements), because wavefunction collapse and

Kn ≡ Ci,i+1 − Cn,1 . (2) classical disturbance in a given system do not influence

i=1

previous or subsequent measurements on distinct mem-

“Realistic” systems obey the Leggett-Garg inequality [3, bers of the ensemble [10, 13]. Unlike the assumption

8], which for n ≥ 3 is given by Kn ≤ n − 2. of non-invasive measurability, moreover, the stationar-

We may calculate an expected value for Kn according ity condition may be subjected to independent testing

to quantum mechanics, KnQ , by time-evolving Q̂ under [9, 13, 17]. As we will see, both the prepared-ensemble

and stationarity conditions may be fulfilled in measure-

the unitary operator U(t): Q̂(ti ) = U † (ti ) Q̂ U(ti ). When

ments of neutrino flavor oscillations. Furthermore, these

it is possible to represent Q̂(ti ) as Q̂(ti ) = ~bi · ~σ , where two conditions enable us to analyze measurements on sep-

~σ = (σx , σy , σz ) is a vector of two-by-two Pauli matrices, arate groups of particles (directly analogous to measure-

then for any complete set of normalized states |φi, the ments on spatially separated systems in tests of Bell’s in-

two-time correlation function may be written equality), circumventing the recent criticism of the LGI

1 whereby measurements on a single system at later times

Cij = hφ|{Q̂(ti ), Q̂(tj )}|φi = ~bi · ~bj . (3) may be influenced by the outcomes of earlier measure-

2

ments on that same system [27].

We use the anticommutator {Â, B̂} ≡ ÂB̂ + B̂ Â to avoid

possible time-ordering ambiguities, since Q̂(ti ) need not LGI VIOLATION USING NEUTRINOS

commute with Q̂(tj ).

In a quantum-mechanical system, violations of the LGI The Standard Model includes three distinct neutrino

arise due to the nonvanishing commutators of the opera- flavors. However, the energies and distances on which we

tors Q̂(ti ) and Q̂(tj ). If one artificially imposes that Q̂(ti ) focus single out oscillations almost entirely between two

and Q̂(tj ) must commute (i.e., taking the limit ~ → 0), flavor states. Hence, we adopt a two-state approxima-

then one recovers the classical prediction for Kn , which tion. In the relativistic limit, oscillations between these

we denote KnC , and which has the compact expression two states may be treated with the Blöch sphere formal-

ism [28], which geometrically represents the space of pure

n−1 n−1

X Y states of a generic two-level system. The observable Q̂

KnC = Ci,i+1 − Ci,i+1 . (4) measures neutrino flavor as projected along a particular

i=1 i=1

axis (which we take to be ẑ): Q̂ ≡ σz , with eigenvalues

Given that Cij is real and |Cij | ≤ 1, we see that KnC Q̂|νµ i = |νµ i and Q̂|νe i = −|νe i, for muon- and electron-

satisfies the LGI, whereas KnQ ≤ n cos(π/n) may violate flavor neutrino states, respectively.

the LGI for particular angles ϑi ≡ arccos(~bi · ~bi+1 ). The The Hamiltonian for neutrino propagation in the two-

discrepancy between these two predictions provides an flavor limit is given by (setting ~ = c = 1) [20, 21]

opening for experimental testing and verification [8].

m2 + m22

VC

The original derivation of the LGI assumed that mea- H= p+ 1 + + VN 1

surements of Q̂ at various times ti are made in a non- 4p 2

invasive manner [3]. The LGI may be derived instead 1 VC − ω cos 2θ ω sin 2θ (5)

+

under the assumption of “stationarity,” such that the 2 ω sin 2θ ω cos 2θ − VC

correlation functions Cij depend only on the time dif- ~r · ~σ

ference τ ≡ tj − ti between measurements [8, 9, 13, 17]. ≡ r0 1 + ,

2

In this case, the bound Kn ≤ n − 2 applies to the class

of “realistic” models that are Markovian, for which the where θ is the neutrino vacuum mixing angle, m1 and m2

evolution of the system after some time t is independent label the distinct mass states, ω ≡ (m22 − m21 )/2p is the

of the means by which the system arrived in a given state oscillation frequency, and p ' E is the relativistic neu-

3

√

trino momentum/energy. The term VC(N ) = 2GF ne(n) is subjected to measurement at two fixed locations sepa-

is the charged (neutral) current potential due to coherent rated by δL, the correlation term in Eq. (9) simplifies to

forward scattering of neutrinos with electrons (neutrons) the difference between the neutrino survival probability

in matter, and GF is the Fermi coupling constant. The and oscillation probability:

term in Eq. (5) proportional to 1 affects all flavor states

identically and therefore does not contribute to flavor os- C(ωa ) = Pµµ (ψa ) − Pµe (ψa ) = 2Pµµ (ψa ) − 1, (10)

cillations.

For neutrinos of a given energy Ea , the time evolution over a time interval τ = tj −ti ' δL. In the limit in which

of flavor states is governed by the unitary operator U, matter effects remain negligible, survival probability (and

which is related to Hosc ≡ ~r · ~σ /2 via thus each correlation function) depends only on the neu-

trino energy Ea . It is therefore possible to construct the

Z tj Leggett-Garg parameter KnQ as a sum of measured neu-

U(ωa ; ti , tj ) ≡ U(ψa;ij ) = exp −i Hosc (ωa )dt trino survival probabilities Pµµ (ψa ) for fixed δL:

ti (6)

' cos(ψa;ij )1 − i sin(ψa;ij )(r̂(ωa ) · ~σ ), n−1 n−1

!

X X

KnQ = (2 − n) + 2 Pµµ (ψa ) − 2Pµµ ψa . (11)

where ωa is the oscillation frequency for energy Ea , and a=1 a=1

ψa;ij ≡ |~r(ωa )|(tj − ti )/2 is the phase accumulated while

propagating from ti to tj with energy Ea . In the limit in For non-zero mixing angles θ, violations of the Kn ≤

which matter effects remain negligible, (n − 2) limit are expected in neutrino oscillations.

ωa 1

ψa;ij ' (tj − ti ) = (m2 − m21 )(tj − ti ). (7)

2 4Ea 2 RESULTS

In order to test for violations of the LGI, we use the

mulated phase ψa;ij , rather than the individual times ti

data gathered by the MINOS neutrino experiment, which

and tj . Moreover, the phases obey a sum rule: for a

extends from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in

given energy Ea , we have ψa;12 + ψa;23 = ψa;13 , or, more

Batavia, IL to Soudan, MN [29]. MINOS measures the

generally,

survival probabilities of oscillating muon neutrinos pro-

n−1

X duced in the NuMI accelerator complex. The accelerator

ψa;i,i+1 = ψa;1n . (8) provides a source of neutrinos with a fixed baseline and

i=1 an energy spectrum that peaks at a point corresponding

to δL/Eν ∼ 250 km/GeV, close to the region where the

Given the unitary operator defined in Eq. (6), for neu- survival probability Pµµ reaches its first minimum. This

trinos propagating with energy Ea , we find the evolution experimental design provides an ideal phase space to test

of the operator Q̂(tj −ti ) = U † (ψa;ij )Q̂U(ψa;ij ) = ~ba;ij ·~σ . for LGI violations.

The observable is defined only along the ẑ projection, for The MINOS Near Detector at Fermilab measures a

which ~ba;ij · ẑ = 1 − 2(r̂ · x̂)2 sin2 ψa;ij , and hence the beam of neutrinos, more than 98% of which are found to

correlation Cij defined in Eq. (3) simplifies to be in the |νµ i state [29], consistent with the identically

prepared flavor state assumption. Moreover, the MINOS

Cij (ωa ) = 1 − 2 sin2 2θ sin2 ψa;ij . (9) experimental data exhibit stationarity, as verified by tests

of Lorentz invariance in neutrino oscillations. Violation

The evolution of a given state depends only on the of Lorentz invariance would lead to a time-dependent al-

phase ψa;ij . Hence we may probe the LGI by exploit- teration of the oscillation parameters, caused by the rel-

ing differences in phase that come from the spacetime ative velocity of Earth as it orbits around the sun. Tests

separation between measurements. For a pair of mea- of Lorentz violation using the same MINOS data we use

surements that depend on an oscillation frequency ωa here reveal no observed violation [30, 31], which indicates

and a time interval τ = tj − ti , the overall phase is that MINOS oscillation data depend on τ but not on ti

ψa;ij = ωa τ /2, consistent with the stationarity condi- or tj separately.

tion. Furthermore, for an experimental arrangement in The MINOS Collaboration recently released prelim-

which measurements occur at a fixed distance δL from inary oscillation results as a function of neutrino en-

the neutrino source, we have τ ' δL in the relativistic ergy [32]. For their baseline distance of 735 km, the

limit. In that case, the phase varies only with the en- MINOS experiment covers the energy interval 0.5 GeV

ergy Ea ; that is, ψa;ij → ψa = ωa δL/2. This means that to 50 GeV, which corresponds to a phase range of ∼

we may use measurements at different frequencies ωa , as (0, 3π/2], within which LGI violations are expected to

opposed to different times, to probe the LGI. We select be near maximal for a quantum mechanical system. As

measurements at various Ea such that the phases obey a Figure 1 illustrates, the data are readily consistent with

sum rule: ψa + ψb = ψc = (ωa + ωb )δL/2. the existing quantum-mechanical model of neutrino os-

Assuming a beam that begins in the pure |νµ i state and cillations [34]. To test or constrain alternative explana-

4

consistent with a hidden-variable or “realistic” model, we

fit the distribution of the number of expected LGI viola-

tions from the classical model (Eq. 4) to a beta-binomial

function, so as to account for the heteroscedasticity of

the underlying distribution. The observed number of

LGI violations (64 out of 82) represents a 6.2σ deviation

from the number of violations one would expect to arise

from an underlying classical distribution. In addition,

the quantum-mechanical model described by Eq. (11)

shows generally good agreement with the observed values

of K3 (χ2Q =104.8 for 81 degrees of freedom). Changing

the phase correlation criterion value from 0.5% to either

0.05% or 1% still yields a 5σ deviation from predic-

FIG. 1. The survival probability of νµ as measured by the tions consistent with “realism.”

MINOS experiment. The solid (blue) curve indicates the

prediction for oscillations assuming global values of ∆m2atm ,

A similar test was performed for K4 . Using the crite-

sin2 2θatm [33], while the dashed (red) curve indicates the pre- ria and methods described above, a total of 577 (out of

diction fitting directly to the measured MINOS values of Pµµ . 715) violations of the LGI were observed for K4 . As Fig-

The red band indicates a 1σ confidence interval around the ure 2 illustrates, there is a clear discrepancy between the

fitted prediction. The data is taken from [32]. observed number of violations and the classical predic-

tion. The K4 data are inconsistent with the “realistic”

prediction at confidence 7σ.

tions, we use survival probabilities measured at different

energies Ea , and thus at different phases ψa .

To construct K3 , we select all pairs of measured points

on the Figure 1 oscillation curve a ≥ b such that the pro-

jected sum of phases ψa + ψb given by Eq. (8) falls within DISCUSSION

0.5% of a third measured phase value ψc . A total of 82

correlation triples (ψa , ψb , ψc ) satisfy the phase condition

ψa + ψb ∈ ψc ± 0.5%, 64 of which explicitly violate the The results discussed above strongly constrain alter-

LGI bound, yielding K3 > 1. In order to properly ac- natives to quantum mechanics, such as classical Marko-

count for the strong statistical correlations which exist vian models. The original LGI was derived under an

between different empirical values of K3 , we generate a assumption that measurements may be performed in a

large sample of pseudodata based on the observed Pµµ non-invasive manner [3]. Within the context of “realis-

values. These data points are modeled as normal dis- tic” hidden-variable models, any disturbance would be

tributions, with their means and variances matched to considered of classical origin and could lead to a vio-

those of the observed probabilities. Each simulated mea- lation of the LGI [8]. Therefore, a determined “real-

surement thus yields an artificial number of values for ist” could criticize previous experiments that had aimed

K3 , from which one can determine the probability that to minimize quantum disturbances (such as wavefunc-

the system represented by the given data set violates the tion collapse) by performing weak measurements. We

LGI. The modeling and parameter extraction is executed pursue a complementary method to address the “clumsi-

using the STAN Markov simulation package [35]. ness loophole,” akin to [9, 13, 17], exploiting stationarity

and the prepared-ensemble condition rather than using

Due to statistical fluctuations present in the oscillation

weak measurements. Our method makes use of projec-

data, some fraction of the observed K3 values may fluc-

tive measurements on individual neutrinos from the en-

tuate above the classical bound, even if the underlying

semble, minimizing the opportunity for one measurement

distribution is itself classical or “realistic.” To determine

to affect the evolution of other, independent neutrinos,

the frequency with which classical distributions give false

in either a quantum-mechanical or a classical manner.

positive LGI violations, we use the same Markov chain

statistical sampling method to construct a classical dis- We have shown that neutrino oscillations clearly

tribution of K3C . This allows us to make a quantitative demonstrate a violation of the classical limits imposed by

comparison between classical and quantum predictions: the Leggett-Garg inequality. This violation occurs over

the observed number of points above the classical bound a distance of 735 km, providing the longest range over

may be directly compared to the predictions from clas- which a Bell-like test of quantum mechanics has been

sical (Eq. 4) and quantum (Eq. 11) rules. The impact carried out to date. The observation stands as further

of the systematic uncertainties from the amplitude and affirmation that quantum coherence can apply broadly to

phases, as best estimated from [36], are also included in microscopic systems, including neutrinos, across macro-

our construction of K3C . scopic distances.

5

FIG. 2. (Left) The number of K3 values that violate the LGI bound. The red curve indicates the expected classical distribution,

while the indigo curve indicates the quantum expectation.

P The arrow indicates the observed number of violations. (Right)

The distribution of K4 versus the sum of the phases a ψa as reconstructed from Pµµ at various energies. The data (black

points) show a clear clustering above the LGI bound. Also shown are the expected distributions for the classical (red dots) and

quantum (blue dots) theoretical predictions. Note that K4 can attain multiple values for a given relative phase, because there

are many triplets of phase points that add up to a given relative phase. The shown points have high statistical correlations.

clear Science, which are supported in part by the U.S.

Department of Energy under grant Contract Numbers

The authors would like to thank Anupam Garg, Nergis de-sc0012567 and de-sc0011091, respectively. T. E. W.

Mavalvala, Alan Guth, Jamison Sloan, Robert Knighton, also acknowledges support from MIT’s Undergraduate

André de Gouvêa, Jason Gallicchio, Anton Zeilinger, Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Correspon-

Johannes Kofler, and Feraz Azhar for insight and dis- dence and requests for materials should be addressed to

cussions. This work was conducted in MIT’s Center J. A. F. (email: josephf@mit.edu).

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