Article abstract

Nature Physics 3, 46 - 51 (2007)

Subject Categories: Optical physics | Electronics, photonics and device physics | Fluid dynamics

Dispersive superfluid-like shock waves in nonlinear optics

Wenjie Wan1, Shu Jia1 and Jason W. Fleischer1,2

In most classical fluids, shock waves are strongly dissipative, their energy being quickly lost through viscous damping. But in systems such as cold plasmas, superfluids and Bose–Einstein condensates, where viscosity is negligible or non-existent, a fundamentally different type of shock wave can emerge whose behaviour is dominated by dispersion rather than dissipation. Dispersive shock waves are difficult to study experimentally, and analytical solutions to the equations that govern them have only been found in one dimension (1D). By exploiting a well-known, but little appreciated, correspondence between the behaviour of superfluids and nonlinear optical materials, we demonstrate an all-optical experimental platform for studying the dynamics of dispersive shock waves. This enables us to observe the propagation and nonlinear response of dispersive shock waves, including the interaction of colliding shock waves, in 1D and 2D. Our system offers a versatile and more accessible means for exploring superfluid-like and related dispersive phenomena.

  1. Department of Electrical Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA
  2. Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

Correspondence to: Jason W. Fleischer1,2 e-mail:


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