Photon Bose-Einstein Condensation in a Dye-Filled Microcavity
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Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC) is the transition to a macroscopic occupation of the ground state of a system of bosonic particles. In 1995 the first experimental realization of BEC was achieved by condensing a dilute atomic gas [1,2]. It was long thought only massive particles could undergo BEC. However, in 2010 it was shown that photon BEC was achieved in an optical dye-filled microcavity . In 2015, we became the second group to successfully repeat these experiments. BEC is a phase transition and thus it occurs at thermal equilibrium. To achieve a thermal photon gas the cavity is filled with a fluorescent dye solution. The dye molecules thermalize the photons by means of repeated absorption-emission cycles. We optically pump the cavity. With the pump we determine the number of photons absorbed by the dye, consequently defining a nonvanishing chemical potential. This ensures a conserved photon number. The photons are trapped by the harmonic potential induced by the concave cavity mirrors. Due to the cutoff energy determined by the cavity length, the trapped photons have a dispersion similar to that of a massive particle in a quantum harmonic oscillator. The cavity length is tuned such that the free spectral range is larger than the bandwidth of the dye. Therefore, only one longitudinal mode fits inside the cavity, making the photon gas effectively two-dimensional. We end up with a thermalized two-dimensional photon gas that has the eigenenergies of a quantum harmonic oscillator. The Bose-Einstein distribution function predicts a critical photon number. Pumping the thermal photon gas beyond this critical number will lead to photon BEC. We measure the spectral- and spatial distributions of our two-dimensional photon gas. In both distributions we observe photon BEC. Results show the characteristics of a phase transition: the appearance of a sharp peak on top of the thermal cloud that coincides with a converging chemical potential to zero. Both the spectral- and spatial distribution are in agreement with the theoretical distribution of photons with an effective mass in a quantum harmonic oscillator. Expansion of the condensate has been measured. This could indicate nonlinear optical effects such as thermal lensing or repulsive photon-photon interactions.