Thermalization and Effective Interactions in Photon Condensates
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The experimental realization of a Bose-Einstein condensate of photons, first achieved in 2010 at Bonn University, allowed for new ways to probe the properties of condensates. For thermal light in free space the chemical potential is zero and condensation is not possible. By confining light to a microcavity, the transverse degrees of freedom behave as massive bosons which can have nonzero chemical potential. The gas of thermal photons can be brought to thermalize with a fluorescent dye though absorption and emission cycles. By pumping the dye molecules with a laser, the chemical potential can be increased and the photons will condense. We have built a setup with which we can spatially and spectrally resolve the photon distribution in such a dye-filled microcavity. This allows us to study the shape and occupation of the low energy transverse modes of the cavity. We use this to investigate the thermalization process of the photon gas. A rate equation model is presented and qualitatively compared to experimental data. We find that the photon gas is not in thermal equilibrium. We also investigate effective photon-photon interactions by measuring the spatial extent of the condensate. We find an effective interaction in the form of thermal lensing. As the thermal lensing depends on the interaction between the photon gas and the dye, we find that the model used for thermalization can also make good predictions about effective photon-photon interactions.