Coherence properties of microcavity polaritons: from parametric scattering to Bose-Einstein condensation

This thesis presents the coherence properties of polaritons in semiconductor microcavities. Semiconductor microcavities are microstructures in which the exciton ground state of a semiconductor quantum well is coupled to a photonic mode of a microresonator. The strong coupling mixes the character of excitons and photons, giving rise to the lower and upper polariton branches, quasiparticles with an unusual energetic dispersion relation due to the extreme mass difference between exciton and photon. Particularly special is the dispersion of the lower polariton, which forms a dip in the 2-dimensional k-space around the lowest energy state with zero in-plane momentum. In this dip, which can be seen as a trap in momentum space, the polaritons are efficiently isolated from dephasing mechanisms involving phonons. Polaritons can be resonantly excited at desired points on the polariton dispersion by shining on the microcavity laser light at the appropriate angle and wavelength. Polaritons can interact and scatter pairwise with each other conserving energy and in plane momentum k, a process similar to parametric scattering of photons in a nonlinear crystal. One polariton from a pump reservoir scatters down to the signal state at k = 0 (corresponding to normal incidence) and a second takes away the excess energy and momentum of the first and scatters up to the idler position ({kP, kP} → {0, 2kP }). This process can be stimulated by a small amount of signal polaritons injected with a probe laser beam at normal incidence. Here the coherence properties of the polariton parametric scattering have been investigated using spectroscopy techniques sensitive to the optical phase, for example coherent control with phase-locked femtosecond probe pulses. Just above the threshold for the stimulated parametric scattering, the parametric amplification process is given by the linear superposition of the individual amplification processes of each probe pulse. The emission of signal, pump, and idler can be controlled by tuning the relative phase of the 150fs-long probe pulses, which are separated by a few picoseconds in time. Experiments are presented that deal with the real-time dynamics of the parametric scattering in the spontaneous and the stimulated regime. It is shown, that in the spontaneous regime the scattering is started by a small amount of polaritons which have relaxed to the band bottom by emitting phonons. In the regime where polariton scattering is stimulated by an external probe, the rise of the signal intensity is delayed with respect to the arrival time of both pump and probe, a feature that can be attributed to the complex phase-matching mechanism for the parametric scattering. In the second part of the thesis, the spontaneous build up of a macroscopic coherence in a CdTe microcavity under non-resonant laser excitation is analysed. The build up of a long-range spatial coherence easily exceeding the thermal wavelength of the polaritons is shown. This is the hallmark of Bose-Einstein condensation and the proof of a macroscopic wavefunction. Experimental data on the statistical distribution of the polaritons in time, the polarisation of the non-linear emission, and the quantum transition from a thermal to a coherent state1 confirm that Bose-Einstein condensation of microcavity polaritons has been observed. We regard these observations as the first bullet-proof evidence for spontaneous Bose-Einstein condensation in a solid state system, a phenomenon that has been the subject to many investigations and controversies during the past four decades. ------------------------------ 1 The data about the statistical distribution, the polarisation, and the transition from a thermal to a coherent state is by courtesy of Jacek Kasprzak of the University of Grenoble.

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