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Imaging an atomic soliton train
Solitons—waveforms that keep their shape as they travel—can form in various environments where waves propagate, such as optical media. In a one-dimensional tube of bosonic atoms, solitons are formed when the interaction between the atoms is suddenly switched from repulsive to attractive. This causes the atoms to clump together into a “train” of solitons. Nguyen et al. used a nearly nondestructive imaging technique to follow the dynamics of this train. The solitons repulsed each other and underwent collective oscillations known as breathing modes.
Science, this issue p. 422
Nonlinear systems can exhibit a rich set of dynamics that are inherently sensitive to their initial conditions. One such example is modulational instability, which is believed to be one of the most prevalent instabilities in nature. By exploiting a shallow zero-crossing of a Feshbach resonance, we characterize modulational instability and its role in the formation of matter-wave soliton trains from a Bose-Einstein condensate. We examine the universal scaling laws exhibited by the system and, through real-time imaging, address a long-standing question of whether the solitons in trains are created with effectively repulsive nearest-neighbor interactions or rather evolve into such a structure.