In optical fibres, weak modulations can grow at the expense of a strong pump to form a triangular comb of sideband pairs, until the process is reversed. Repeated cycles of such conversion and back-conversion constitute a manifestation of the universal nonlinear phenomenon known as Fermi–Pasta–Ulam recurrence. However, it remains a major challenge to observe the coexistence of different types of recurrences owing to the spontaneous symmetry-breaking nature of such a phenomenon. Here, we implement a novel non-destructive technique that allows the evolution in amplitude and phase of frequency modes to be reconstructed via post-processing of the fibre backscattered light. We clearly observe how control of the input modulation seed results in different recursive behaviours emerging from the phase-space structure dictated by the spontaneously broken symmetry. The proposed technique is an important tool to characterize other mixing processes and new regimes of rogue-wave formation and wave turbulence in fibre optics.

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This work was partly supported by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche through the High Energy All Fiber Systems (HEAFISY) and Nonlinear dynamics of Abnormal Wave Events (NoAWE) projects, the Labex Centre Europeen pour les Mathematiques, la Physique et leurs Interactions (CEMPI) and Equipex Fibres optiques pour les hauts flux (FLUX) through the ‘Programme Investissements d’Avenir’, by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, Hauts de France council and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Contrat de Projets Etat-Region (CPER Photonics for Society, P4S) and FEDER through the HEAFISY project.

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  1. University of Lille, CNRS, UMR 8523 - PhLAM - Physique des Lasers Atomes et Molécules, Lille, France

    • Arnaud Mussot
    • , Corentin Naveau
    • , Matteo Conforti
    • , Alexandre Kudlinski
    • , Francois Copie
    •  & Pascal Szriftgiser
  2. Department of Engineering, University of Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy

    • Stefano Trillo


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A.M. and P.S. conceived the experimental setup. A.M., C.N., A.K., F.C. and P.S. worked on the experiment. M.C. and S.T. developed the theoretical aspects. A.M., S.T., M.C. and C.N. performed numerical simulations. All authors contributed to analysing the data and writing the paper.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Arnaud Mussot or Stefano Trillo.

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