Gas-Solid Phase Transition in Laser Multiple Filamentation


While propagating in transparent media, near-infrared multiterawatt (TW) laser beams break up in a multitude of filaments of typically 100-200 um diameter with peak intensities as high as 10 to 100 TW/cm(2). We observe a phase transition at incident beam intensities of 0.4 TW/cm(2), where the interaction between filaments induce solidlike two-dimensional crystals with a 2.7 mm lattice constant, independent of the initial beam diameter. Below 0.4 TW/cm(2), we evidence a mixed phase state in which some filaments are closely packed in localized clusters, nucleated on inhomogeneities (seeds) in the transverse intensity profile of the beam, and other are sparse with almost no interaction with their neighbors, similar to a gas. This analogy with a thermodynamic gas-solid phase transition is confirmed by calculating the interaction Hamiltonian between neighboring filaments, which takes into account the effect of diffraction, Kerr self-focusing, and plasma generation. The shape of the effective potential is close to a Morse potential with an equilibrium bond length close to the observed value.

Physical Review Letters, 118(13) page 133902