Weak measurement

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In quantum mechanics (and computation & information), weak measurements are a type of quantum measurement that results in an observer obtaining very little information about the system on average, but also disturbs the state very little.[1] From Busch's theorem the system is necessarily disturbed by the measurement.[2] In the literature weak measurements are also known as unsharp,[3] fuzzy,[3][4] dull, noisy,[5] approximate, and gentle[6] measurements. Additionally weak measurements are often confused with the distinct but related concept of the weak value.[7]


Weak measurements were first thought about in the context of weak continuous measurements of quantum systems[8] (i.e. quantum filtering and quantum trajectories). The physics of continuous quantum measurements is as follows. Consider using an ancilla, e.g. a field or a current, to probe a quantum system. The interaction between the system and the probe correlates the two systems. Typically the interaction only weakly correlates the system and ancilla. (Specifically the interaction unitary need only to be expanded to first or second order in perturbation theory.) By measuring the ancilla and then using quantum measurement theory the state of the system conditioned on the results of the measurement can be determined. In order to obtain a strong measurement many ancilla must be coupled and then measured. In the limit where there is a continuum of ancilla the measurement process becomes continuous in time. This process was described first by: Mensky;[9][10] Belavkin;[11][12] Barchielli, Lanz, Prosperi;[13] Barchielli;[14] Caves;[15][16] Caves and Milburn.[17] Later on Howard Carmichael [1] [see An open systems approach to quantum optics, Lecture Notes in Physics, Springer, 1993 (Lectures at the Free University of Brussels 1991)] and Howard M. Wiseman[18] also made important contributions to the field.

It should be noted that the notion of a weak measurement is often misattributed to Aharonov, Albert and Vaidman.[7] In their article they consider an example of a weak measurement (and perhaps coin the phrase "weak measurement") and use it to motivate their definition of a weak value, which was defined for the first time in Ref.[7]


There is no universally accepted definition of a weak measurement. One approach is to declare a weak measurement to be a generalized measurement where some or all of the Kraus operators are close to the identity.[19] The approach taken below is to interact two systems weakly and then measure one of them.[20] After detailing this approach we will illustrate it with examples.

Weak interaction and ancilla coupled measurement[edit]

Consider a system which starts in the quantum state |\psi\rangle and an ancilla that starts in the state |\phi\rangle, the combined initial state is |\Psi\rangle=|\psi\rangle\otimes|\phi\rangle. These two systems interact via the Hamiltonian H=A\otimes B, which generates the time evolutions  U(t) = \exp[-i \,x\, t\, H] (in units where \hbar=1) where x is the "interaction strength" which has units of 1/s. Assume a fixed interaction time t= \Delta t and that \lambda = x \Delta t is small such that \lambda^3 \approx 0. A series expansion of U in \lambda gives

U&\approx I\otimes I -i\lambda H -\frac 1 2 \lambda^2 H^2+ O(\lambda^3)\\
&= I\otimes I-i\lambda A\otimes B -\frac 1 2 \lambda^2 A^2\otimes B^2

Because it was only necessary to expand the unitary to a low order in perturbation theory, we say this is a weak interaction. Further the fact that the unitary is predominately the Identity operator, as \lambda and \lambda^2 are small, implies the state after the interaction is not radically different from the initial state. The combined state of the system after interaction is

|\Psi'\rangle&= (I\otimes I-i\lambda A\otimes B -\frac 1 2 \lambda^2 A^2\otimes B^2)|\Psi\rangle.

Now we perform a measurement on the ancilla to find out about the system, this is known as an ancilla-coupled measurement. We will consider measurements in a basis |q\rangle (on the ancilla system) such that \sum_q |q\rangle\langle q| = I. The measurements action on both systems is described by the action of the projectors \Pi_q= I\otimes |q\rangle\langle q| on the joint state  \Psi'\rangle. From quantum measurement theory we know the conditional state after the measurement is

|\Psi_q\rangle&= \frac{\Pi_q |\Psi'\rangle}{\sqrt{\langle \Psi'|\Pi_q|\Psi'\rangle}}\\
&=\frac{ I \langle q|\phi\rangle-i\lambda A\langle q|B|\phi\rangle -\frac 1 2 \lambda^2 A^2\langle q| B^2 |\phi\rangle}{\mathcal N}|\psi\rangle\otimes|q\rangle.

where \mathcal N = \sqrt{\langle \Psi'|\Pi_q|\Psi'\rangle } is a normalization factor for the wavefunction. Notice the ancilla system state records the outcome of the measurement. The object M_q:= I \langle q|\phi\rangle-i\lambda A\langle q|B|\phi\rangle -\frac 1 2 \lambda^2 A^2\langle q| B^2 |\phi\rangle is an operator on the system Hilbert space and is called a Kraus operator.

With respect to the Kraus operators the post measurement state of the combined system is

|\Psi_q\rangle&= \frac{M_q |\psi\rangle}{\sqrt{\langle \psi|M_q^\dagger M_q|\psi\rangle}}\otimes |q \rangle

The objects E_q= M_q^\dagger M_q are elements of what is called a POVM and must obey \sum_q E_q = I so that the corresponding probabilities sum to unity: \sum_q \Pr(q|\psi)=\sum_q \langle \psi|E_q|\psi\rangle=1. As the ancilla system is no longer correlated with the primary system, it is simply recording the outcome of the measurement, we can trace over it. Doing so gives the conditional state of the primary system alone

|\psi_q\rangle&= \frac{M_q |\psi\rangle}{\sqrt{\langle \psi|M_q^\dagger M_q|\psi\rangle}}

which we still label by the outcome of the measurement  q . Indeed these considerations allow one to derive a Quantum trajectory.

Example Kraus operators[edit]

We will use the canonical example of Gaussian Kraus operators given by Barchielli, Lanz, Prosperi;[13] and Caves and Milburn.[17] Take  H= x \otimes p where the position and momentum on both systems have the usual Canonical commutation relation  [x,  p] = i. Take the initial wavefunction of the ancilla to have a Gaussian distribution

|\Phi\rangle = \frac{1}{(2\pi \sigma^2)^{1/4}}\int dq' \exp[-q'^2/4\sigma^2]|q'\rangle

The position wavefunction of the ancilla is

\Phi(q) =\langle q|\Phi\rangle = \frac{1}{(2\pi \sigma^2)^{1/4}} \exp[-q^2/4\sigma^2].

The Kraus operators are (compared to the discussion above, we set  \lambda = 1 )

M(q) &=\langle q|\exp[-ix\otimes p]|\Phi\rangle \\
&= \frac{1}{(2\pi \sigma^2)^{1/4}} \exp[-(q-x)^2/4\sigma^2],

while the corresponding POVM elements are

E(q) &=M_q^\dagger M_q\\
&= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2\pi \sigma^2}} \exp[-(q-x)^2/2\sigma^2],

which obey  \int dq E(q) = I. An alternative representation is often seen in the literature. Using the spectral representation of the position operator  x = \int dx' | x' \rangle \langle x' | we can write

M(q) &= \frac{1}{(2\pi \sigma^2)^{1/4}} \int d x' \exp[-(q-x')/4\sigma^2] |x'\rangle \langle x'|,\\
E(q) &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2\pi \sigma^2}} \int d x' \exp[-(q-x')^2/2\sigma^2] |x'\rangle \langle x'|,

Notice that  \lim_{\sigma\rightarrow 0} E(q)=|x = q\rangle \langle x = q| .[17] That is in a particular limit these operators limit to a strong measurement of position, for other values of \sigma we refer to the measurement as finite strength and as \sigma\rightarrow \infty we say the measurement is weak.

Information gain disturbance tradeoff[edit]

As stated above Busch's theorem prevents a free lunch: there can be no information gain without disturbance. However the tradeoff between information gain and disturbance has been characterized by many authors including Fuchs and Peres;[21] Fuchs;[22] Fuchs and Jacobs;[23] and Banaszek.[24]

Recently the information gain disturbance tradeoff relation has been examined in the context of what is called the "Gentle measurement lemma".[6][25]


Since the early days it has been clear that the primary use of weak measurement would be for feedback control or adaptive measurements of quantum systems. Indeed this motivated much of Belavkin's work and an explicit example was given by Caves and Milburn. An early application of an adaptive weak measurements was that of Dolinar's receiver [26] which has been realized experimentally [27] .[28] Another interesting application of weak measurements is to use weak measurements followed by a unitary to synthesize other generalized measurements.[19] Wiseman and Milburn's book[20] is a good reference for many of the modern developments.

Suggested further reading[edit]

  • Brun's article [1]
  • Jacobs and Steck's article [29]
  • Quantum Measurement Theory and its Applications, K. Jacobs (Cambridge Press, 2014) ISBN 9781107025486
  • Quantum Measurement and Control, H. M. Wiseman and G. J. Milburn (Cambridge Press, 2009)[20]
  • Tamir and Cohen's article [30]


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  2. ^ Paul Busch (2009). J. Christian, W.Myrvold,, ed. "No Information Without Disturbance": Quantum Limitations of Measurement. Invited contribution, "Quantum Reality, Relativistic Causality, and Closing the Epistemic Circle: An International Conference in Honour of Abner Shimony", Perimeter Institute, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, July 18–21, 2006,. Springer-Verlag, 2008,. pp. 229–256. arXiv:0706.3526. doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-9107-0. ISSN 1566-659X. 
  3. ^ a b Stan Gudder (2005). Edited by Andrei Khrennikov, Olga Nanasiova and Endre Pap, ed. Non-disturbance for fuzzy quantum measurements. Fuzzy Sets and Systems, Volume 155, Issue 1, Pages 1-164 (1 October 2005) Measures and conditioning, Measures and conditioning. Elsevier. pp. 18–25. doi:10.1016/j.fss.2005.05.009. 
  4. ^ Asher Peres (1993). Quantum Theory, Concepts and Methods. Kluwer. p. 387. ISBN 0-7923-2549-4. 
  5. ^ A. N. Korotkov (2009). Y. v. Nazarov, ed. Noisy Quantum Measurement of Solid-State Qubits: Bayesian Approach. Quantum Noise in Mesoscopic Physics. Springer Netherlands. pp. 205–228. doi:10.1007/978-94-010-0089-5_10. ISBN 978-1-4020-1240-2. 
  6. ^ a b A. Winter (1999). "Coding Theorem and Strong Converse for Quantum Channels". IEEE Trans. Inf. Theory 45 (7): 2481–2485. arXiv:1409.2536. doi:10.1109/18.796385. 
  7. ^ a b c Yakir Aharonov, David Z. Albert, and Lev Vaidman (1988). "How the result of a measurement of a component of the spin of a spin-1/2 particle can turn out to be 100". Physical Review Letters 60 (14): 1351–1354. Bibcode:1988PhRvL..60.1351A. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.60.1351. PMID 10038016. 
  8. ^ A. Clerk, M. Devoret, S. Girvin, F. Marquardt, and R. Schoelkopf (2010). "Introduction to quantum noise, measurement, and amplification". Rev. Mod. Phys. 82 (2): 1155–1208. arXiv:0810.4729. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.82.1155. 
  9. ^ M. B. Mensky (1979). "Quantum restrictions for continuous observation of an oscillator". Phys. Rev. D 20 (2): 384–387. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.20.384. 
  10. ^ M. B. Mensky (1979). Zh. Eksp. Teor. Fiz.,77, 77: 1326.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ V.P. Belavkin, (1980). "Quantum filtering of Markov signals with white quantum noise". Radiotechnika i Electronika 25: 1445–1453. 
  12. ^ V.P. Belavkin, (1992). "Quantum continual measurements and a posteriori collapse on CCR". Commun. Math. Phys. 146: 611–635. 
  13. ^ a b A. Barchielli, L. Lanz, G. M. Prosperi (1982). "A model for the macroscopic description and continual observations in quantum mechanics". Il Nuovo Cimento B 72 (1): 79–121. doi:10.1007/BF02894935. 
  14. ^ A. Barchielli (1986). "Measurement theory and stochastic differential equations in quantum mechanics". Phys. Rev. A 34, 34 (3): 1642–1649. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.34.1642. 
  15. ^ Carlton M. Caves (1986). "Quantum mechanics of measurements distributed in time. A path-integral formulation". Phys. Rev. D 33 (6): 1643–1665. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.33.1643. 
  16. ^ Carlton M. Caves (1987). "Quantum mechanics of measurements distributed in time. II. Connections among formulations". Phys. Rev. D 35 (6): 1815–1830. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.35.1815. 
  17. ^ a b c Carlton M. Caves and G. J. Milburn, (1987). "Quantum-mechanical model for continuous position measurements". Phys. Rev. A 36 (12): 5543–5555. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.36.5543. 
  18. ^ Wiseman's thesis
  19. ^ a b O. Oreshkov and T. A. Brun (2005). "Weak Measurements Are Universal". Phys. Rev. Lett. 95 (11): 110409. arXiv:quant-ph/0503017. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.95.110409. 
  20. ^ a b c Wiseman, Howard M.; Milburn, Gerard J. (2009). Quantum Measurement and Control. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 460. ISBN 978-0-521-80442-4. 
  21. ^ C. A. Fuchs and A. Peres (1996). "Quantum-state disturbance versus information gain: Uncertainty relations for quantum information". Phys. Rev. A 53 (4): 2038–2045. arXiv:quant-ph/9512023. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.53.2038. 
  22. ^ C. A. Fuchs (1996). "Information Gain vs. State Disturbance in Quantum Theory". arXiv:quant-ph/9611010. 
  23. ^ C. A. Fuchs and K. A. Jacobs (2001). "Information-tradeoff relations for finite-strength quantum measurements". Phys. Rev. A 63 (6): 062305. arXiv:quant-ph/0009101. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.63.062305. 
  24. ^ K. Banaszek (2006). "Quantum-state disturbance versus information gain: Uncertainty relations for quantum information". Open Syst. Inf. Dyn., 13. arXiv:quant-ph/0006062. doi:10.1007/s11080-006-7263-8. 
  25. ^ T. Ogawa and H. Nagaoka (1999). "A New Proof of the Channel Coding Theorem via Hypothesis Testing in Quantum Information Theory". IEEE Trans. Inf. Theory 45: 2486–2489. arXiv:quant-ph/0208139. 
  26. ^ S. J. Dolinar (1973). "An optimum reciver for the binary coherent state quantum channel". MIT Res. Lab. Electron. Quart. Progr. Rep. 111: 115–120. 
  27. ^ R. L. Cook, P. J. Martin, and J. M. Geremia (2007). "Optical coherent state discrimination using a closed-loop quantum measurement". Nature 446 (11): 774–777. doi:10.1038/nature05655. 
  28. ^ F. E. Becerra, J. Fan, G. Baumgartner, J. Goldhar, J. T. Kosloski, and A. Migdall (2013). "Experimental demonstration of a receiver beating the standard quantum limit for multiple nonorthogonal state discrimination". Nature Photonics 7 (11): 147–152. doi:10.1038/nphoton.2012.316. 
  29. ^ K. Jacobs and D. A. Steck (2006). "A straightforward introduction to continuous quantum measurement". Contemporary Physics 47 (5): 279–303. arXiv:quant-ph/0611067. doi:10.1080/00107510601101934. 
  30. ^ Boaz Tamir and Eliahu Cohen (2013). "Introduction to Weak Measurements and Weak Values". Quanta 2 (1): 7–17. doi:10.12743/quanta.v2i1.14.