Collisions of matter-wave solitons
Nguyen, Jason H.V.
Malomed, Boris A.
Hulet, Randall G.
Solitons are localized wave disturbances that propagate without changing shape, a result of a nonlinear interaction that compensates for wave packet dispersion. Individual solitons may collide, but a defining feature is that they pass through one another and emerge from the collision unaltered in shape, amplitude, or velocity, but with a new trajectory reflecting a discontinuous jump. This remarkable property is mathematically a consequence of the underlying integrability of the one-dimensional (1D) equations, such as the nonlinear Schrödinger equation, that describe solitons in a variety of wave contexts, including matter waves [1, 2]. Here we explore the nature of soliton collisions using Bose–Einstein condensates of atoms with attractive interactions confined to a quasi-1D waveguide. Using real-time imaging, we show that a collision between solitons is a complex event that differs markedly depending on the relative phase between the solitons. By controlling the strength of the nonlinearity we shed light on these fundamental features of soliton collisional dynamics, and explore the implications of collisions in the proximity of the crossover between one and three dimensions where the loss of integrability may precipitate catastrophic collapse.