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Formation and propagation of matter-wave soliton trains


Attraction between the atoms of a Bose–Einstein condensate renders it unstable to collapse, although a condensate with a limited number of atoms1 can be stabilized2 by confinement in an atom trap. However, beyond this number the condensate collapses3,4,5. Condensates constrained to one-dimensional motion with attractive interactions are predicted to form stable solitons, in which the attractive forces exactly compensate for wave-packet dispersion1. Here we report the formation of bright solitons of 7Li atoms in a quasi-one-dimensional optical trap, by magnetically tuning the interactions in a stable Bose–Einstein condensate from repulsive to attractive. The solitons are set in motion by offsetting the optical potential, and are observed to propagate in the potential for many oscillatory cycles without spreading. We observe a soliton train, containing many solitons; repulsive interactions between neighbouring solitons are inferred from their motion.

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Figure 1: Feshbach resonance.
Figure 2: Measured rate of inelastic collisional loss of atoms near the Feshbach resonance.
Figure 3: Comparison of the propagation of repulsive condensates with atomic solitons.
Figure 4: Repulsive interactions between solitons.

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We thank W. I. McAlexander for providing the coupled channels calculation, B. Luey for making the magnetic coils, and T. Killian and H. Stoof for discussions. This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation, NASA, the Office of Naval Research and the Welch Foundation.

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Correspondence to Randall G. Hulet.

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Strecker, K., Partridge, G., Truscott, A. et al. Formation and propagation of matter-wave soliton trains. Nature 417, 150–153 (2002).

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