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Violation of the Leggett-Garg Inequality in Neutrino Oscillations

J. A. Formaggio, D. I. Kaiser, M. M. Murskyj, and T. E. Weiss

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA

The Leggett-Garg inequality, an analogue of Bell’s inequality involving correlations of measure-

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

INTRODUCTION with electrons, muons, and tau leptons, respectively. Fla-

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.

FORMALISM AND ASSUMPTIONS at t [8]. We may then consider measurements performed

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.,
X weak measurements), because wavefunction collapse and
Kn ≡ Ci,i+1 − Cn,1 . (2) classical disturbance in a given system do not influence
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-
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
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 + ,
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-

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)
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
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)

A neutrino’s time evolution depends only on the accu-

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
survival probabilities of oscillating muon neutrinos pro-
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-

To estimate the degree to which these results are in-

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.

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.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS for Theoretical Physics and MIT’s Laboratory for Nu-

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:

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