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Optical Simultons in Atomic Vapours


About the Project

Applications are invited by the Quantum, Light and Matter group of Durham University for a theoretical Ph.D. project on the formation and control of simultons in atomic media (two-colour solitonlike optical pulses, which can propagate with little attenuation over surprisingly long distances).

This project is primarily theoretical and will be hosted by the Quantum, Light and Matter group of Durham University ( It concerns the interaction of light with an atomic vapour, such as a vapour of rubidium or another alkali metal (a research area in which the Durham Quantum, Light and Matter group is internationally leading, and which is currently very active owing to its relevance for a wide range of applications in, e.g., metrology, quantum optics and instrumentation).

Specifically, the project is to study the formation, propagation and use of optical simultons, building on current research in the group [“Quasisimultons in thermal atomic vapors”, T. P. Ogden, K. A. Whittaker, J. Keaveney, S. A. Wrathmall, C. S. Adams and R. M. Potvliege, Physical Review Letters 123, 243604 (2019), DOI:]. To summarise, it has been long known that very intense light sources can create self-reinforcing pulses of light called solitons, which can propagate through an opaque medium as though it were nearly transparent. Two-colour solitons, called simultons, can also be created by combining a weak signal with an intense pulse of a different wavelength, but it is only recently that this fact has been demonstrated in an atomic vapour. Remarkably, these simultons form because of a complex non-linear interaction between the two fields mediated by the atoms. The project is to study this effect in depth and to explore the possibilities offered by simultons for developing new ways of controlling how light interacts with light. It closely relates to current experimental work in Durham and is intended to inform the development of future experiments. However, the project is theoretical. Its objectives are to study how simultons interact with each other and propagate in thermal vapours over longer distances than studied so far, and to ascertain the scope for novel methods of optical quantum technology based on making simultons interact with atoms in highly excited (Rydberg) states. The project will be largely based on numerical computations on realistic models, complementing and extending those described in the publication mentioned above, but it will also articulate with the rich mathematical literature on the subject.

During the Ph. D. the student will receive general training in the relevant areas of Atomic Physics through the QLM graduate course, which is integrated in the graduate programme of the Department ( The student will also receive specialized training in the project-specific issues, including specialized training in programming.

Candidates should have (or should expect to achieve) a 2.1 (integrated Masters) or first class BSc honours degree in Physics or a related subject, or an equivalent non-UK qualification, and should have a strong background in quantum mechanics, atomic physics and computational physics at an undergraduate level, including an experience in computer programming.

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr Robert Potvliege () and/or to Dr Steven Wrathmall (). General enquiries should be directed to the Postgraduate Admissions Team ()

Funding Notes

This project will normally be funded by EPSRC (full fees and stipend for home students only) but is also open to self-funded students.

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