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Physics and Astronomy Engels – PRL Cover Article

WSU’s Fundamental Quantum Physics Lab Makes Headlines


Dilute-gas Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) are a prime testbed for the study of nonlinear dynamics. When a cloud of atoms is cooled to temperatures near absolute zero, the matter stops behaving like classical particles and instead starts behaving like waves, governed by the laws of quantum mechanics. Solitons are a particular hallmark phenomenon of nonlinear waves: They can propagate without dispersing, maintaining their shape over long distances. While there are many varieties of solitons, each having their own special properties, Peregrine solitons are even more peculiar, as they emerge out of a background, form a large, pronounced peak, and decay. Such dynamics make them candidates for possible explanations of rogue waves in the ocean. While previous pioneering experiments were able to observe Peregrine solitons in large water tanks, nonlinear optics and plasmas, the data shown here is the first to demonstrate the emergence and decay of a Peregrine soliton in atomic matter waves. Experimental data (left column) was obtained in the Fundamental Quantum Physics lab, led by Professor Peter Engels in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, while the right column shows corresponding numerical simulations. This work is the result of a collaboration between the experimental group at WSU and an international team of theorists.