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Cooperative optical pattern formation in an ultrathin atomic layer

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Article number42046
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>4/12/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>Optics Express
Issue number25
Number of pages13
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date28/11/23
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Spontaneous pattern formation from a uniform state is a widely studied nonlinear optical phenomenon that shares similarities with non-equilibrium pattern formation in other scientific domains. Here we show how a single layer of atoms in an array can undergo nonlinear amplification of fluctuations, leading to the formation of intricate optical patterns. The origin of the patterns is intrinsically cooperative, eliminating the necessity of mirrors or cavities, although introduction of a mirror in the vicinity of the atoms significantly modifies the scattering profiles. The emergence of these optical patterns is tied to a bistable collective response, which can be qualitatively described by a long-wavelength approximation, similar to a nonlinear Schrödinger equation of optical Kerr media or ring cavities. These collective excitations have the ability to form singular defects and unveil atomic position fluctuations through wave-like distortions.