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Optomechanical self-structuring in a cold atomic gas



The rapidly developing field of optomechanics aims at the combined control of optical and mechanical modes1,2,3. In cold atoms, the spontaneous emergence of spatial structures due to optomechanical back-action has been observed in one dimension in optical cavities3,4,5,6,7,8 or highly anisotropic samples9. Extensions to higher dimensions that aim to exploit multimode configurations have been suggested theoretically10,11,12,13,14,15,16. Here, we describe a simple experiment with many spatial degrees of freedom, in which two continuous symmetries—rotation and translation in the plane orthogonal to a pump beam axis—are spontaneously broken. We observe the simultaneous long-range spatial structuring (with hexagonal symmetry) of the density of a cold atomic cloud and of the pump optical field, with adjustable length scale. Being based on coherent phenomena (diffraction and the dipole force), this scheme can potentially be extended to quantum degenerate gases.

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Figure 1: Self-organization scheme and experimental set-up.
Figure 2: Observation of self-organization.
Figure 3: Pattern temporal lifetime and spatial period.
Figure 4: Optomechanical versus two-level nonlinearity.


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The Strathclyde group is grateful for support by the Leverhulme Trust and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The collaboration between the two groups is supported by the Royal Society (London). The Sophia Antipolis group acknowledges support from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis and Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.

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G.L. led the experimental effort and performed the experiment with the help of P.G. They were joined by T.A., A.A. and R.K. in data analysis. E.T., G.R., G.L.O. and W.J.F. performed the theoretical and computational analysis. T.A. conceived the experiment and coordinated the joint efforts with R.K. All authors contributed to the discussion and interpretation of results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to G. Labeyrie or T. Ackemann.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Labeyrie, G., Tesio, E., Gomes, P. et al. Optomechanical self-structuring in a cold atomic gas. Nature Photon 8, 321–325 (2014).

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