Abstract

The study of transverse optical pattern formation has been studied extensively in nonlinear optics, with a recent experimental interest in studying the phenomenon using cold atoms, which can undergo real-space self-organization. Here, we describe our experimental observation of pattern formation in cold atoms, which occurs using less than 1 μW of applied power. We show that the optical patterns and the self-organized atomic structures undergo continuous symmetry breaking, which is characteristic of nonequilibrium phenomena in a multimode system. To theoretically describe pattern formation in cold atoms, we present a self-consistent model that allows for tight atomic bunching in the applied optical lattice. We derive the nonlinear refractive index of a gas of multilevel atoms in an optical lattice, and we derive the threshold conditions under which pattern formation occurs. We show that by using small detunings and sub-Doppler temperatures, one achieves intensity thresholds for pattern formation that are reduced by two orders of magnitude compared to warm atoms.

© 2016 Optical Society of America

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