Modulation Instability and Pattern Formation in Spatially Incoherent Light Beams

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Science  20 Oct 2000:
Vol. 290, Issue 5491, pp. 495-498
DOI: 10.1126/science.290.5491.495

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We report on the experimental observation of modulation instability of partially spatially incoherent light beams in noninstantaneous nonlinear media and show that in such systems patterns can form spontaneously from noise. Incoherent modulation instability occurs above a specific threshold that depends on the coherence properties (correlation distance) of the wave packet and leads to a periodic train of one-dimensional filaments. At a higher value of nonlinearity, the incoherent one-dimensional filaments display a two-dimensional instability and break up into self-ordered arrays of light spots. This discovery of incoherent pattern formation reflects on many other nonlinear systems beyond optics. It implies that patterns can form spontaneously (from noise) in diverse nonlinear many-body systems involving weakly correlated particles, such as atomic gases at (or near) Bose-Einstein condensation temperatures and electrons in semiconductors at the vicinity of the quantum Hall regime.

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