Friday, April 26, 2013

1304.6980 (Guohai Situ et al.)

Berezinskii-Kosterlitz-Thouless transition in a photonic lattice    [PDF]

Guohai Situ, Stefan Muenzel, Jason W. Fleischer
Phase transitions give crucial insight into many-body systems, as crossovers between different regimes of order are determined by the underlying dynamics. These dynamics, in turn, are often constrained by dimensionality and geometry. For example, in one- and two-dimensional systems with continuous symmetry, thermal fluctuations prevent the formation of long-range order[1,2]. Two-dimensional systems are particularly significant, as vortices can form in the plane but cannot tilt out of it. At high temperatures, random motion of these vortices destroys large-scale coherence. At low temperatures, vortices with opposite spin can pair together, cancelling their circulation and allowing quasi-long-range order to appear. This Berezenskii-Kosterlitz-Thouless (BKT) transition[3,4] is essentially classical, arising for example in the traditional XY model for spins, but to date experimental evidence has been obtained only in cold quantum systems. Measurements of superfluid sound speed[5] and critical velocity[6] have been consistent with scaling predictions, and vortices have been observed directly in cold atom experiments[7,8]. However, the presence of trapping potentials restricts measurement to vortex density, rather than number, and obscures the process of vortex unbinding. Further, atom and fluid experiments suffer from parasitic heating and difficulties in phase recording, leading to results that differ from theory in many quantitative aspects. Here, we use a nonlinear optical system to directly observe the ideal BKT transition, including vortex pair dynamics and the correlation properties of the wavefunction, for both repulsive and attractiveinteractions (the photonic equivalent of ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic conditions[9]). The results confirm the thermodynamics of the BKT transition and expose outstanding issues in the crossovers to superfluidity and Bose-Einstein condensation.
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