Bloch oscillations in the absence of a lattice

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Science  02 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6341, pp. 945-948
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah6616

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Detecting unusual oscillations

Under the influence of a constant force, an electron in the periodic potential of a crystal lattice undergoes so-called Bloch oscillations. The same phenomenon has been seen with ultracold atoms in optical lattices, but it is not expected to occur in a uniform system. Meinert et al. observed Bloch oscillations of an impurity atom in one-dimensional tubes of strongly interacting cesium atoms—a system without built-in periodicity. Owing to the strong interactions, the bosonic atoms stayed away from one another, forming an effective lattice. The researchers observed reflections of the impurity atoms of this effective lattice in momentum space, with the lattice constant corresponding to the interatomic distance of the host gas.

Science, this issue p. 945


The interplay of strong quantum correlations and far-from-equilibrium conditions can give rise to striking dynamical phenomena. We experimentally investigated the quantum motion of an impurity atom immersed in a strongly interacting one-dimensional Bose liquid and subject to an external force. We found that the momentum distribution of the impurity exhibits characteristic Bragg reflections at the edge of an emergent Brillouin zone. Although Bragg reflections are typically associated with lattice structures, in our strongly correlated quantum liquid they result from the interplay of short-range crystalline order and kinematic constraints on the many-body scattering processes in the one-dimensional system. As a consequence, the impurity exhibits periodic dynamics, reminiscent of Bloch oscillations, although the quantum liquid is translationally invariant. Our observations are supported by large-scale numerical simulations.

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