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@Nat. Comm. Physics: Assessing physical realism experimentally in a quantum-controlled device

Bohr’s complementarity principle has been challenged by quantum delayed-choice experiments wherein quantum systems are claimed to behave neither as wave nor as a particle, but in an intermediary way. However, this conclusion has been supported by retro-inference and with no direct link with the system quantum state. Here, we consider a framework that employs an operational criterion of physical reality to diagnosis the system ontology directly from the quantum state at each instant of time. We show that, in disparity with previous proposals, our setup ensures a formal link between the output visibility and elements of reality within the interferometer. An experimental proof-of-principle is provided for a two-spin-1/2 system in an interferometric setup implemented in a nuclear magnetic resonance platform. We discuss how our results validate, to a great extent, Bohr’s original formulation of the complementarity principle and unveil morphing reality states.

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