Thermally condensing photons into a coherently split state of light
Christian Kurtscheid, David Dung, Erik Busley, Frank Vewinger, Achim Rosch, Martin Weitz
The quantum state of light plays a crucial role in a wide range of fields, from quantum information science to precision measurements. Whereas complex quantum states can be created for electrons in solid-state materials through mere cooling, optical manipulation and control builds on nonthermodynamic methods. Using an optical dye microcavity, we show that photon wave packets can be split through thermalization within a potential with two minima subject to tunnel coupling. At room temperature, photons condense into a quantum-coherent bifurcated ground state. Fringe signals upon recombination show the relative coherence between the two wells, demonstrating a working interferometer with the nonunitary thermodynamic beam splitter. Our energetically driven optical-state preparation method provides a route for exploring correlated and entangled optical many-body states.