Physical Review X

“Observation of a smooth polaron-molecule transition in a degenerate Fermi gas”

September 25, 2020

Understanding the behavior of an impurity strongly interacting with a Fermi sea is a long-standing challenge in many-body physics. When the interactions are short-ranged, two vastly different ground states exist: a polaron quasiparticle and a molecule dressed by the majority atoms. In the single-impurity limit, it is predicted that at a critical interaction strength, a first-order transition occurs between these two states. Experiments, however, are always conducted in the finite temperature and impurity density regime. The fate of the polaron-to-molecule transition under these conditions, where the statistics of quantum impurities and thermal effects become relevant, is still unknown. Here, we address this question experimentally and theoretically. Our experiments are performed with a spin-imbalanced ultracold Fermi gas with tunable interactions. Utilizing a novel Raman spectroscopy combined with a high-sensitivity fluorescence detection technique, we isolate the quasiparticle contribution and extract the polaron energy, spectral weight, and the contact parameter. As the interaction strength is increased, we observe a continuous variation of all observables, in particular a smooth reduction of the quasiparticle weight as it goes to zero beyond the transition point. Our observation is in good agreement with a theoretical model where polaron and molecule quasiparticle states are thermally occupied according to their quantum statistics. At the experimental conditions, polaron states are hence populated even at interactions where the molecule is the ground state and vice versa. The emerging physical picture is thus that of a smooth transition between polarons and molecules and a coexistence of both in the region around the expected transition.

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