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Transverse self-organization in cold atoms due to opto-mechanical coupling

Labeyrie, G. and Gomes, P. and Tesio, E. and Kaïser, R. and Firth, W and Robb, G and Oppo, G.L. and Ackemann, T. (2013) Transverse self-organization in cold atoms due to opto-mechanical coupling. In: 2013 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics Europe and International Quantum Electronics Conference, CLEO/Europe-IQEC 2013. IEEE. ISBN 9781479905935

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Summary form only given. Spontaneous optical pattern formation occurs in a variety of nonlinear systems [1], including hot atomic vapors [2]. On the other hand, the spatial self-organization of atomic ensembles due to opto-mechanical coupling has received a lot of interest in recent years [3].We report on the observation of transverse self-organization of a cold atomic cloud (issued from a magnetooptical trap) under the action of a single pump laser beam. Two symmetries (translation and rotation) in the plane orthogonal to the beam propagation direction are spontaneously broken. We use a simple optical feedback scheme [4], where the transmitted pump beam is retro-reflected to the atoms by a high-reflectivity mirror located at a distance d behind the cloud. This feedback loop transforms phase fluctuations of the transmitted wave into intensity fluctuations, which then react on the atomic medium. If the feedback is positive, a transverse instability can develop leading to the spontaneous apparition of patterns in the transmitted pump intensity profile, as shown in the figure below (left).Using a weak probe beam sent a few tens of μs after the e,tinction of the pump, we demonstrate that the instability also results in a transverse spatial ordering of the atomic medium as shown in the right image. The cold atoms thus e,perience strong spatial bunching due to the dipole force associated to the inhomogeneous intensity distribution. We identified two different instability regimes. For short pump durations (- 1 μs), high pump intensity and cloud optical density, the instability relies on the Kerr effect (electronic nonlinearity). For longer pump durations (- 100 μs), the instability is driven by the opto-mechanical effect, resulting in lower intensity and optical density thresholds than for the electronic nonlinearity. These observations are well reproduced by a theoretical model including the coupled dynamics of the light field and the atomic e,ter- al degrees of freedom.