Authors: Vivas-Viana, Alejandro; Gonzalez-Tudela, Alejandro; Sanchez Munoz, Carlos
Journal: PHYSICAL REVIEW A
Publication date: 2022/07/22
Abstract: Virtual states are a central concept in quantum mechanics. By definition, the probability of finding a quantum system in a virtual state should be vanishingly small at all times. In contrast to this notion, we report a phenomenon occurring in open quantum systems by which virtual states can acquire a sizable population in the long-time limit, even if they are not directly coupled to any dissipative channel. This means that the situation in which the virtual state remains unpopulated can be metastable. We describe this effect by introducing a two-step adiabatic elimination method, which we termed hierarchical adiabatic elimination, that allows one to obtain analytical expressions of the timescale of metastability in general open quantum systems. We show how these results can be relevant for practical questions such as the generation of stable and metastable entangled states in dissipative systems of interacting qubits.