Bose-Einstein condensation is a state of matter for which massive bosons develop a macroscopic occupation of the ground state. After the theoretical discovery by Bose and Einstein, it took approximately 70 years to be experimentally realized using Rubidium-87 atoms. Ever since, many different species have been shown to Bose condense. The key in these experiments is cooling down atoms temperatures below 200 nK, while maintaining a large density.
Despite all these species, it was thought that photons could not Bose condense. This changed in 2010 when the first Bose-Einstein condensate of photons (phBEC) was achieved. In a table top experiment photons are confined to a dye-filled microcavity where under the right conditions a thermalized photon gas is achieved. Using our setup, we quantitatively show from both the spectral and spatial distribution of photons in the microcavity that a macroscopic occupation of the ground state is achieved, i.e. a condensate of photons.
The achievement of phBEC in a dye-filled microcavity has led to a renewed interest in the density distribution of the ideal Bose gas in a two-dimensional harmonic oscillator. We present measurements of the radial profile of photons inside the microcavity below and above the critical point for phBEC with a large signal-to-noise ratio. We obtain good agreement with theoretical profiles obtained using exact summation of eigenstates.
An interesting open question is, whether the photons in the condensate are interacting or non-interacting and as a consequence, whether the condensate is also a superfluid or only forms a macroscopically occupied ground state, as predicted by Einstein. When increasing the photon density, we observe an increase in the radius of the condensate which we attribute to effective repulsive interactions. For several dye concentrations we accurately determine the radius of the condensate as a function of the number of condensate photons, and derive from the measurements an effective interaction strength.
In many systems ranging from condensed matter physics and particle physics to cosmology, phase transitions and spontaneous symmetry breaking play a crucial role. The information of a polarized condensate from an unpolarized thermal cloud constitutes a directly observable prototype of spontaneous symmetry breaking. For every single-shot of the pump laser, we determine the Stokes parameters of the photons inside the microcavity which fully characterizes the polarization state of the sample. By varying experimental parameters, we investigate if the polarization is randomly chosen from shot-to-shot of the experiment.
The dye-filled microcavity is a beautiful tool to achieve phBEC. However, it cannot provide the periodic potential required to achieve quantum phase transitions, such as the Mott insulator that have been so successfully exploited in the field of ultra-cold atoms. We use a local density approach to simulate large-area photonic crystal cavities. Clever interplay with both the electronic and photonic bandgap of these cavities has the potential of achieving phBEC in a periodic potential. We show that when the hole radius varies quadratically as a function of position, the eigenmodes of the photonic crystal can be described by the corresponding eigenmodes of the quantum harmonic oscillator.