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Observation of spatially ordered structures in a two-dimensional Rydberg gas

Schauß, Peter and Cheneau, Marc and Endres, Manuel and Fukuhara, Takeshi and Hild, Sebastian and Omran, Ahmed and Pohl, Thomas and Gross, Christian and Kuhr, Stefan and Bloch, Immanuel (2012) Observation of spatially ordered structures in a two-dimensional Rydberg gas. Nature, 491 (7422). pp. 87-91.

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Abstract

The ability to control and tune interactions in ultracold atomic gases has paved the way for the realization of new phases of matter. So far, experiments have achieved a high degree of control over short-range interactions, but the realization of long-range interactions has become a central focus of research because it would open up a new realm of many-body physics. Rydberg atoms are highly suited to this goal because the van der Waals forces between them are many orders of magnitude larger than those between ground-state atoms. Consequently, mere laser excitation of ultracold gases can cause strongly correlated many-body states to emerge directly when atoms are transferred to Rydberg states. A key example is a quantum crystal composed of coherent superpositions of different, spatially ordered configurations of collective excitations. Here we use high-resolution, in situ Rydberg atom imaging to measure directly strong correlations in a laser-excited, two-dimensional atomic Mott insulator. The observations reveal the emergence of spatially ordered excitation patterns with random orientation, but well-defined geometry, in the high-density components of the prepared many-body state. Together with a time-resolved analysis, this supports the description of the system in terms of a correlated quantum state of collective excitations delocalized throughout the gas. Our experiment demonstrates the potential of Rydberg gases to realize exotic phases of matter, thereby laying the basis for quantum simulations of quantum magnets with long-range interactions.