Optical pattern formation with a two-level nonlinearity

Camara, A. and Kaiser, R. and Labeyrie, G. and Firth, W. J. and Oppo, G.-L. and Robb, G. R. M. and Arnold, A.S and Ackemann, T. (2015) Optical pattern formation with a two-level nonlinearity. Physical Review A, 92 (1). 013820. ISSN 1050-2947 (https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevA.92.013820)

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We present an experimental and theoretical investigation of spontaneous pattern formation in the transverse section of a single retroreflected laser beam passing through a cloud of cold rubidium atoms. In contrast to previously investigated systems, the nonlinearity at work here is that of a two-level atom, which realizes the paradigmatic situation considered in many theoretical studies of optical pattern formation. In particular, we are able to observe the disappearance of the patterns at high intensity due to the intrinsic saturable character of two-level atomic transitions.