Wrinkled shells

September issue

This month we have an Insight on complex optics, examine a theory for how elastic membranes wrinkle, and consider large-scale quantum simulations in a trapped ion processor.


  • Complex optics insight

    Disorder and mode interactions are often treated as sources of noise, but can shape the flow of light in interesting and useful ways. This Insight reviews the fundamental physics and broad applications of optics in disordered and multimodal media.

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  • The quantum kicked rotor is a paradigmatic non-interacting model of quantum chaos and ergodicity breaking. An experiment with a kicked Bose–Einstein condensate now explores the influence of many-body interactions on the onset of quantum chaos.

    • Jun Hui See Toh
    • Katherine C. McCormick
    • Subhadeep Gupta
  • A Mott insulator forms when strong interactions between particles cause them to become localized. A cold atom simulator has now been used to realize a selective Mott insulator in which atoms are localized or propagating depending on their spin state.

    • D. Tusi
    • L. Franchi
    • L. Fallani
    Article Open Access
  • As laser action emerges from fluorescence, its emission wavelength lies within the fluorescence spectrum. Exploiting multiphonon processes can take the laser emission far beyond the spectral limits defined by a material’s intrinsic fluorescence.

    • Fei Liang
    • Cheng He
    • Yan-Feng Chen
  • Entanglement entropy between two parts of a quantum state generally grows with volume, but for one-dimensional and some two-dimensional ground states, it scales with area. An area law has now been proven for a related metric in any dimension or geometry.

    • Anurag Anshu
    • Aram W. Harrow
    • Mehdi Soleimanifar
    • A quantum rotor periodically kicked stops absorbing energy after a certain time and enters into a localized regime. Two experiments with cold atoms have now shown how many-body interactions can suppress dynamical localization.

      • Jakub Zakrzewski
      News & Views
    • Laser light is usually limited to the same wavelength range as the spontaneous emission of the active material. A judicious choice of dielectric coatings on the cavity has now enabled laser emission far beyond the spectral range of the gain medium.

      • Alessandra Toncelli
      News & Views
    • Using a quantum annealer to simulate the dynamics of phase transitions shows that superconducting quantum devices can coherently evolve systems of thousands of individual elements. This is an important step toward quantum simulation and optimization.

      • David Bernal Neira
      News & Views
    • Limits on the quantum entanglement entropy in one dimension have been a key factor in understanding the physics of many-body systems. A bound that applies in any dimension has now been derived for a different measure known as entanglement spread.

      • Enrique Rico Ortega
      • Simone Montangero
      News & Views
    • A proposed materials design principle can facilitate the discovery of strongly correlated topological semimetals. It predicts promising candidate materials by cross referencing theoretical models based on realistic crystal structures with a materials database. This approach is verified by synthesizing and experimentally investigating a proposed material.

      Research Briefing
  • Declaring a cosmopolitan right to scientific progress risks perpetuating the inequities it aims to overcome. Instead, science ought to be reimagined in a way that directly addresses its links to nationalist projects and harmful capitalist practices.

    • Matthew Sample
    • Irina Cheema
  • Although the ohm is ‘only’ a derived SI unit, the assumption that it plays an unobtrusive role could not be further from the truth, as Karin Cedergren reveals.

    • Karin Cedergren
    Measure for Measure
  • It is easy to dismiss research into the foundations of quantum mechanics as irrelevant to physicists in other areas. Adopting this attitude misses opportunities to appreciate the richness of quantum mechanics.

  • Random lasers made out of disordered media have a rich but often unpredictable laser light emission, in all directions and over many frequencies. Strategies for taming random lasing are emerging, which have the potential to deliver programmable lasers with unprecedented properties.

    • Riccardo Sapienza
A simulated speckle pattern created when white light passes through a thin, multiply scattering medium.

Complex optics

Disorder and mode interactions are often treated as sources of noise, but can shape the flow of light in interesting and useful ways.


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