Decoherence in Excited Atoms by Low-Energy Scattering

Diego Quinones Valles, Benjamin Varcoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We describe a new mechanism of decoherence in excited atoms as a result of thermal particles scattering by the atomic nucleus. It is based on the idea that a single scattering will produce a sudden displacement of the nucleus, which will be perceived by the electron in the atom as an instant shift in the electrostatic potential. This will leave the atom’s wave-function partially projected into lower-energy states, which will lead to decoherence of the atomic state. The decoherence is calculated to increase with the excitation of the atom, making observation of the effect easier in Rydberg atoms. We estimate the order of the decoherence for photons and massive particles scattering, analyzing several commonly presented scenarios. Our scheme can be applied to the detection of weakly-interacting particles, like those which may be the constituents of Dark Matter, the interaction of which was calculated to have a more prominent effect that the background radiation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number28
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2016


  • decoherence
  • Rydberg atoms
  • dark matter
  • axions


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