Exploring dynamical phase transitions with cold atoms in an optical cavity
Atom-light interactions in optical cavities have been proposed to realize collective quantum spin models with tunable long-range interactions, which can feature exotic out-of-equilibrium phases of matter precluded from existence at equilibrium as well as intriguing universal behaviors. This approach contrasts with previous investigations that primarily focused on the optical nonlinearity created by the presence of an atomic ensemble. We report the observation of distinct non-equilibrium phases of matter of a collective XY spin model with transverse and longitudinal fields simulated via an ensemble of ∼106 88Sr atoms. The collective exchange interactions of the model are generated by coupling a far-detuned optical cavity mode to a narrow optical atomic transition. The unique properties of our cavity-QED platform allow us to probe the different quantum phases that arise from the competition between the transverse and longitudinal fields and the infinite-range interactions, as well as the dependence of the associated non-equilibrium phase transitions on system size and initial state preparation. Our observations shed light on non-equilibrium phases featured in a range of related systems, including Josephson junctions in superfluid helium, as well as coupled atomic and solid-state polariton condensates, with complementary types of control. Moreover, our platform introduces opportunities for future explorations of quantum chaos and scrambling dynamics, while also opening a path for the use of quantum enhancement to improve the performance of state-of-the-art atomic clocks.
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