Nonlinear beam shaping by a cloud of cold Rb atoms
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First experimental investigations are reported on nonlinear beam shaping due to the interaction between an intense laser beam and a cloud of laser cooled rubidium atoms. Resonant excitation of the F = 3 ↔ F′ = 4 hyperfine transition is considered. The single-pass interaction through the cold vapor causes an increase in the laser beam intensity in the forward direction (zero transverse wavevector component) when observed in Fourier space, for sufficiently high values of saturation. A qualitative explanation of the observations based on a two-level model for a resonantly excited transition proves acceptable. The observations are compatible with an interpretation based on nonlinear index-induced focusing of an incident beam with curved wavefront, as is used in z-scan measurements. Simple physical considerations allow us to deduce the conditions for the observability of optical patterns in the beam transmitted by a cold atomic cloud.
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