A New State of Light: Physicists Observe New Phase in Bose-Einstein Condensate of Light Particles

Light Particles Abstract Concept

A single “super photon” made up of many thousands of individual light particles: About ten years ago, researchers at the University of Bonn produced such an extreme aggregate state for the first time and presented a completely new light source. The state is called optical Bose-Einstein condensate and has captivated many physicists ever since, because this exotic world of light particles is home to its very own physical phenomena.

Researchers led by Prof. Dr. Martin Weitz, who discovered the super photon, and theoretical physicist Prof. Dr. Johann Kroha have returned from their latest “expedition” into the quantum world with a very special observation. They report of a new, previously unknown phase transition in the optical Bose-Einstein condensate. This is a so-called overdamped phase. The results may in the long term be relevant for encrypted quantum communication. The study has been published in the journal Science.

The Bose-Einstein condensate is an extreme physical state that usually only occurs at very low temperatures. What’s special: The particles in this system are no longer distinguishable and are predominantly in the same quantum mechanical state, in other words they behave like a single giant “superparticle.” The state can therefore be described by a single wave function.

In 2010, researchers led by Martin Weitz succeeded for the first time in creating a Bose-Einstein condensate from light particles (photons). Their special system is still in use today: Physicists trap light particles in a resonator made of two curved mirrors spaced just over a micrometer apart that reflect a rapidly reciprocating beam of light. The space is filled with a liquid dye solution, which serves to cool down the photons. This is done by the dye molecules “swallowing” the photons and then spitting them out again, which brings the light particles to the temperature of the dye solution – equivalent to room temperature. Background: The system makes it possible to cool light particles in the first place, because their natural characteristic is to dissolve when cooled.

Optical Microresonator Filled With Dye Solution

On the right is a microscope objective used to observe and analyze the light emerging from the resonator. Credit: © Gregor Hübl/Uni Bonn

Clear separation of two phases

Phase transition is what physicists call the transition between water and ice during freezing. But how does the particular phase transition occur within the system of trapped light particles? The scientists explain it this way: The somewhat translucent mirrors cause photons to be lost and replaced, creating a non-equilibrium that results in the system not assuming a definite temperature and being set into oscillation. This creates a transition between this oscillating phase and a damped phase. Damped means that the amplitude of the vibration decreases.

“The overdamped phase we observed corresponds to a new state of the light field, so to speak,” says lead author Fahri Emre Öztürk, a doctoral student at the Institute for Applied Physics at the University of Bonn. The special characteristic is that the effect of the laser is usually not separated from that of Bose-Einstein condensate by a phase transition, and there is no sharply defined boundary between the two states. This means that physicists can continually move back and forth between effects.

Martin Weitz

with the optical setup at the measuring table at the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bonn. Credit: © Gregor Hübl/Uni Bonn

“However, in our experiment, the overdamped state of the optical Bose-Einstein condensate is separated by a phase transition from both the oscillating state and a standard laser,” says study leader Prof. Dr. Martin Weitz. “This shows that there is a Bose-Einstein condensate, which is really a different state than the standard laser. “In other words, we are dealing with two separate phases of the optical Bose-Einstein condensate,” he emphasizes.

The researchers plan to use their findings as a basis for further studies to search for new states of the light field in multiple coupled light condensates, which can also occur in the system. “If suitable quantum mechanically entangled states occur in coupled light condensates, this may be interesting for transmitting quantum-encrypted messages between multiple participants,” says Fahri Emre Öztürk.

New State of Light Research Team

Prof. Dr. Martin Weitz, Dr. Julian Schmitt, Dr. Frank Vewinger, Prof. Dr. Johann Kroha and Göran Hellmann from the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bonn. Credit: © Gregor Hübl/Uni Bonn

Reference: “Observation of a non-Hermitian phase transition in an optical quantum gas’ by Fahri Emre Öztürk, Tim Lappe, Göran Hellmann, Julian Schmitt, Jan Klaers, Frank Vewinger, Johann Kroha and Martin Weitz, 2 April 2021, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.abe9869

The study received funding from the Collaborative Research Center TR 185 “OSCAR – Control of Atomic and Photonic Quantum Matter by Tailored Coupling to Reservoirs” of the Universities of Kaiserslautern and Bonn and the Cluster of Excellence ML4Q of the Universities of Cologne, Aachen, Bonn and the Research Center Jülich, funded by the German Research Foundation. The Cluster of Excellence is embedded in the Transdisciplinary Research Area (TRA) “Building Blocks of Matter and Fundamental Interactions” of the University of Bonn. In addition, the study was funded by the European Union within the project “PhoQuS – Photons for Quantum Simulation” and the German Aerospace Center with funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

5 Comments on "A New State of Light: Physicists Observe New Phase in Bose-Einstein Condensate of Light Particles"

  1. Ralph Dratman | April 3, 2021 at 1:15 pm | Reply

    Is there a classical description of the trapped light in the resonator?
    I am trying to visualize what the temperature of a collection of photons would mean.
    Would that refer to the average energy of the photons?
    That would be in the infrared at room temperature, I think.

  2. Isaiah james knight barr'e Paladin | April 4, 2021 at 10:33 pm | Reply

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    Your team of 20 year professor wouldn’t begin to know what I was doing besides how to cover it up

  3. The captured image of the experiment has an uncanny resemblance to the fractal visuals people see in “hyperspace” during xperiments with physchedelics such as DMT. Many users report encountering interdimensional entities constructed of geometric kaleidoscope like shapes, if I could put a picture up of some of the images created from the experience, the resemblance to the image featured in the article is too similar. Perhaps a coincidence but strange nevertheless.

  4. Dr.Isaiah james knight barr'e Pala | April 7, 2021 at 5:48 pm | Reply

    It is quite disgusting a drug reference is used in the light of God level math

  5. Isaiah james knight barr'e Paladin | April 7, 2021 at 10:06 pm | Reply

    Its sad to see someone idicated a drug trance as a excuse for leaking background radiation like GPS coordinator. You guys are sorry scientist

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