Optical excitation of Josephson plasma solitons in a cuprate superconductor

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Josephson plasma waves are linear electromagnetic modes that propagate along the planes of cuprate superconductors, sustained by interlayer tunnelling supercurrents. For strong electromagnetic fields, as the supercurrents approach the critical value, the electrodynamics become highly nonlinear. Josephson plasma solitons (JPSs) are breather excitations predicted in this regime, bound vortex–antivortex pairs that propagate coherently without dispersion. We experimentally demonstrate the excitation of a JPS in La1.84Sr0.16CuO4, using intense narrowband radiation from an infrared free-electron laser tuned to the 2-THz Josephson plasma resonance. The JPS becomes observable as it causes a transparency window in the opaque spectral region immediately below the plasma resonance. Optical control of magnetic-flux-carrying solitons may lead to new applications in terahertz-frequency plasmonics, in information storage and transport and in the manipulation of high-Tc superconductivity.

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Figure 1: Calculated space- and time-dependent interlayer phase for φz(x,t) for two pump wavelengths above resonance.
Figure 2: Calculated space- and time-dependent interlayer phase for φz(x,t) for ωFEL = 0.97ωJPR and four pump intensities: 9 V cm−1, 38 kV cm−1, 39 kV cm−1, 42 kV cm−1.
Figure 3: Pictorial representation of a JPS as it propagates at four time delays.
Figure 4: Equilibrium optical properties of La1.84Sr0.16CuO4.
Figure 5: Time-dependent optical properties of La1.84Sr0.16CuO4 for three excitation frequencies.
Figure 6: Perturbed loss functions.


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We thank Y. Laplace for fruitful discussions. Research at the University of Oxford was supported by a 2004 European Young Investigator Award, by the Royal Society through the Paul Instrument Fund and by the EPSRC under the program Next Generation Facility Users. Research at the MPSD-CFEL in Hamburg was funded through core support by the Max Planck Society and the University of Hamburg. E.C. acknowledges the support from IMPRS-UFAST. We are grateful to P. Michel and the FELBE team for their dedicated support.

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A.C. conceived the project. A.D. and D.F. designed and built the experimental set-up and led the experimental activities. A.D., D.F., M.H., V.K. and N.D. performed the experiment and collected the data with assistance from M.G., S.W. and W.S.; A.D. analysed the data. E.C., L.Z. and M.E. developed the theoretical model and performed the simulation. S.P., H.T. and T.T. grew the samples. A.C. wrote the manuscript with contributions from E.C., L.Z. and M.E.

Correspondence to A. Cavalleri.

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Dienst, A., Casandruc, E., Fausti, D. et al. Optical excitation of Josephson plasma solitons in a cuprate superconductor. Nature Mater 12, 535–541 (2013) doi:10.1038/nmat3580

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