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Nat Commun. 2012;3:1169. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2179.

Non-equilibrium dynamics of an unstable quantum pendulum explored in a spin-1 Bose-Einstein condensate.

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School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0430, USA.

Erratum in

  • Nat Commun. 2013;4:1928.


A pendulum prepared perfectly inverted and motionless is a prototype of unstable equilibrium and corresponds to an unstable hyperbolic fixed point in the dynamical phase space. Here, we measure the non-equilibrium dynamics of a spin-1 Bose-Einstein condensate initialized as a minimum uncertainty spin-nematic state to a hyperbolic fixed point of the phase space. Quantum fluctuations lead to non-linear spin evolution along a separatrix and non-Gaussian probability distributions that are measured to be in good agreement with exact quantum calculations up to 0.25 s. At longer times, atomic loss due to the finite lifetime of the condensate leads to larger spin oscillation amplitudes, as orbits depart from the separatrix. This demonstrates how decoherence of a many-body system can result in apparent coherent behaviour. This experiment provides new avenues for studying macroscopic spin systems in the quantum limit and for investigations of important topics in non-equilibrium quantum dynamics.


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