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Spin–orbit-coupled Bose–Einstein condensates

Nature volume 471, pages 8386 (03 March 2011) | Download Citation


Spin–orbit (SO) coupling—the interaction between a quantum particle’s spin and its momentum—is ubiquitous in physical systems. In condensed matter systems, SO coupling is crucial for the spin-Hall effect1,2 and topological insulators3,4,5; it contributes to the electronic properties of materials such as GaAs, and is important for spintronic devices6. Quantum many-body systems of ultracold atoms can be precisely controlled experimentally, and would therefore seem to provide an ideal platform on which to study SO coupling. Although an atom’s intrinsic SO coupling affects its electronic structure, it does not lead to coupling between the spin and the centre-of-mass motion of the atom. Here, we engineer SO coupling (with equal Rashba7 and Dresselhaus8 strengths) in a neutral atomic Bose–Einstein condensate by dressing two atomic spin states with a pair of lasers9. Such coupling has not been realized previously for ultracold atomic gases, or indeed any bosonic system. Furthermore, in the presence of the laser coupling, the interactions between the two dressed atomic spin states are modified, driving a quantum phase transition from a spatially spin-mixed state (lasers off) to a phase-separated state (above a critical laser intensity). We develop a many-body theory that provides quantitative agreement with the observed location of the transition. The engineered SO coupling—equally applicable for bosons and fermions—sets the stage for the realization of topological insulators in fermionic neutral atom systems.

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We thank E. Demler, T.-L. Ho and H. Zhai for conceptual input; and we appreciate conversations with J. V. Porto and W. D. Phillips. This work was partially supported by ONR, ARO with funds from the DARPA OLE programme, and the NSF through the Physics Frontier Center at the Joint Quantum Institute. K.J.-G. acknowledges CONACYT.

Author information


  1. Joint Quantum Institute, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and University of Maryland, Gaithersburg, Maryland, 20899, USA

    • Y.-J. Lin
    • , K. Jiménez-García
    •  & I. B. Spielman
  2. Departamento de Física, Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional, México DF, 07360, México

    • K. Jiménez-García


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All authors contributed to writing of the manuscript. Y.-J. L. led the data-taking effort in which K.J.-G. participated. I.B.S. conceived the experiment; performed numerical and analytic calculations; and supervised this work.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to I. B. Spielman.

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