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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Mar 27;115(13):3279-3284. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1720415115. Epub 2018 Mar 8.

Metastability and avalanche dynamics in strongly correlated gases with long-range interactions.

Author information

1
Institute for Quantum Electronics, ETH Zurich, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland.
2
Institute for Quantum Electronics, ETH Zurich, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland donner@phys.ethz.ch.

Abstract

We experimentally study the stability of a bosonic Mott insulator against the formation of a density wave induced by long-range interactions and characterize the intrinsic dynamics between these two states. The Mott insulator is created in a quantum degenerate gas of 87-Rubidium atoms, trapped in a 3D optical lattice. The gas is located inside and globally coupled to an optical cavity. This causes interactions of global range, mediated by photons dispersively scattered between a transverse lattice and the cavity. The scattering comes with an atomic density modulation, which is measured by the photon flux leaking from the cavity. We initialize the system in a Mott-insulating state and then rapidly increase the global coupling strength. We observe that the system falls into either of two distinct final states. One is characterized by a low photon flux, signaling a Mott insulator, and the other is characterized by a high photon flux, which we associate with a density wave. Ramping the global coupling slowly, we observe a hysteresis loop between the two states-a further signature of metastability. A comparison with a theoretical model confirms that the metastability originates in the competition between short- and global-range interactions. From the increasing photon flux monitored during the switching process, we find that several thousand atoms tunnel to a neighboring site on the timescale of the single-particle dynamics. We argue that a density modulation, initially forming in the compressible surface of the trapped gas, triggers an avalanche tunneling process in the Mott-insulating region.

KEYWORDS:

avalanche dynamics; cavity QED; extended Bose-Hubbard model; metastability; quantum gas

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