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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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.
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). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphoton.2014.52
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