Nonequilibrium Precondensation of Classical Waves in Two Dimensions Propagating through Atomic Vapors
The nonlinear Schrödinger equation, used to describe the dynamics of quantum fluids, is known to be valid not only for massive particles but also for the propagation of light in a nonlinear medium, predicting condensation of classical waves. Here we report on the initial evolution of random waves with Gaussian statistics using atomic vapors as an efficient two dimensional nonlinear medium. Experimental and theoretical analysis of near field images reveal a phenomenon of nonequilibrium precondensation, characterized by a fast relaxation towards a precondensate fraction of up to 75%. Such precondensation is in contrast to complete thermalization to the Rayleigh-Jeans equilibrium distribution, requiring prohibitive long interaction lengths.