Two-slit diffraction with highly charged particles: Niels Bohr's consistency argument that the electromagnetic field must be quantized

Baym, Gordon
Ozawa, Tomoki
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We analyze Niels Bohr's proposed two-slit interference experiment with highly charged particles that argues that the consistency of elementary quantum mechanics requires that the electromagnetic field must be quantized. In the experiment a particle's path through the slits is determined by measuring the Coulomb field that it produces at large distances; under these conditions the interference pattern must be suppressed. The key is that as the particle's trajectory is bent in diffraction by the slits it must radiate and the radiation must carry away phase information. Thus the radiation field must be a quantized dynamical degree of freedom. On the other hand, if one similarly tries to determine the path of a massive particle through an inferometer by measuring the Newtonian gravitational potential the particle produces, the interference pattern would have to be finer than the Planck length and thus undiscernable. Unlike for the electromagnetic field, Bohr's argument does not imply that the gravitational field must be quantized.
Comment: 8 pages, 4 figures. To appear in Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci
Quantum Physics, Condensed Matter - Other Condensed Matter, High Energy Physics - Theory