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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/J017027/1
Title: Bose-Einstein Condensation of Photons
Principal Investigator: Nyman, Dr RA
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Dept of Physics
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 01 October 2012 Ends: 03 December 2018 Value (£): 617,937
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Light-Matter Interactions Quantum Optics & Information
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
29 May 2012 EPSRC Physical Sciences Fellowships Interview Panel 29th May Announced
18 Apr 2012 EPSRC Physical Sciences Physics - April Deferred
Summary on Grant Application Form
This proposal is to make and study a novel, collective, quantum state of light by using a dye medium between two mirrors to bring photons to thermal equilibrium. The collective state emerges because of quantum interference.

Light is made of photons. Photons can be absorbed by a fluorescent dye, and bounced between two mirrors just 2 millionths of a metre apart, for one billionth of a second. That's more than long enough for the photons to come into thermal equilibrium with the dye, at room temperature. Quantum mechanics makes sure that identical photons interfere constructively, and so are very likely to be found together. This means that if we shine a bright enough light on our dye-between-mirrors, we will create a giant quantum wave, known as a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC).

BECs have been seen in laser-cooled atoms in vacuum chambers, in cryogenic helium, and in semiconductor systems (exciton-polaritons) at low temperatures. In 2010, BEC was seen for the first time at room temperature in a dye-between-mirrors. This project will take that simple experimental idea and use it to study the properties of photon BECs.

The mirrors will be curved to confine the light: the shape of the mirrors gives an effective potential energy. Part of this project will be developing a machine and technique to make custom-shaped mirrors to confine photons so that they can only move in one dimension. Another part will be looking at the coherence of the photon BEC (how it shows interference). The photons in the dye medium interact with each other, unlike light beams in free space. I will study those photon interactions. I will also look at how the photon BEC behaves away from thermal equilibrium. The end result of this project will be an understanding of how photon BECs form, what are their properties, and their interactions, as well as the ability to make them in arbitrary sizes and shapes.

This is a fundamentally new way to manipulate light, so we can expect new optical devices will follow. It is hoped that this system of thermalised photons will improve the cost-efficiency of solar energy conversion, by transforming the frequency and spatial mode of the light that is pumped into the dye, making it possible to use optimised, cheap photovoltaics.

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Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk