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Nature. 2010 Nov 25;468(7323):545-8. doi: 10.1038/nature09567.

Bose-Einstein condensation of photons in an optical microcavity.

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  • 1Institut für Angewandte Physik, Universität Bonn, Wegelerstrasse 8, 53115 Bonn, Germany.

Abstract

Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC)-the macroscopic ground-state accumulation of particles with integer spin (bosons) at low temperature and high density-has been observed in several physical systems, including cold atomic gases and solid-state quasiparticles. However, the most omnipresent Bose gas, blackbody radiation (radiation in thermal equilibrium with the cavity walls) does not show this phase transition. In such systems photons have a vanishing chemical potential, meaning that their number is not conserved when the temperature of the photon gas is varied; at low temperatures, photons disappear in the cavity walls instead of occupying the cavity ground state. Theoretical works have considered thermalization processes that conserve photon number (a prerequisite for BEC), involving Compton scattering with a gas of thermal electrons or photon-photon scattering in a nonlinear resonator configuration. Number-conserving thermalization was experimentally observed for a two-dimensional photon gas in a dye-filled optical microcavity, which acts as a 'white-wall' box. Here we report the observation of a Bose-Einstein condensate of photons in this system. The cavity mirrors provide both a confining potential and a non-vanishing effective photon mass, making the system formally equivalent to a two-dimensional gas of trapped, massive bosons. The photons thermalize to the temperature of the dye solution (room temperature) by multiple scattering with the dye molecules. Upon increasing the photon density, we observe the following BEC signatures: the photon energies have a Bose-Einstein distribution with a massively populated ground-state mode on top of a broad thermal wing; the phase transition occurs at the expected photon density and exhibits the predicted dependence on cavity geometry; and the ground-state mode emerges even for a spatially displaced pump spot. The prospects of the observed effects include studies of extremely weakly interacting low-dimensional Bose gases and new coherent ultraviolet sources.

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PMID:
21107426
[PubMed]
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