Quantum phase transition in an antiferromagnetic spinor Bose-Einstein condensate

Phys Rev Lett. 2011 Nov 4;107(19):195306. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.107.195306. Epub 2011 Nov 4.


We have experimentally observed the dynamics of an antiferromagnetic sodium Bose-Einstein condensate quenched through a quantum phase transition. Using an off-resonant microwave field coupling the F = 1 and F = 2 atomic hyperfine levels, we rapidly switched the quadratic energy shift q from positive to negative values. At q = 0, the system undergoes a transition from a polar to antiferromagnetic phase. We measured the dynamical evolution of the population in the F = 1, mF = 0 state in the vicinity of this transition point and observed a mixed state of all 3 hyperfine components for q < 0. We also observed the coarsening dynamics of the instability for q < 0, as it nucleated small domains that grew to the axial size of the cloud.