Our textbook understanding of quantum systems tends to come from modeling these systems isolated from the environment. However, an emerging focus is understanding how many-body quantum systems behave when interacting with their surroundings and how they subsequently become dissipative, or non-Hermitian, systems. Öztürk et al. formed a quantum condensate of light by trapping photons in an optical cavity, a system that is naturally dissipative. By altering the trapping conditions, they demonstrated that the system provides a powerful platform with which to explore the complex dynamics and phase transitions occurring in dissipative quantum systems. Science , this issue p.  Quantum gases of light, such as photon or polariton condensates in optical microcavities, are collective quantum systems enabling a tailoring of dissipation from, for example, cavity loss. This characteristic makes them a tool to study dissipative phases, an emerging subject in quantum many-body physics. We experimentally demonstrate a non-Hermitian phase transition of a photon Bose-Einstein condensate to a dissipative phase characterized by a biexponential decay of the condensate’s second-order coherence. The phase transition occurs because of the emergence of an exceptional point in the quantum gas. Although Bose-Einstein condensation is usually connected to lasing by a smooth crossover, the observed phase transition separates the biexponential phase from both lasing and an intermediate, oscillatory condensate regime. Our approach can be used to study a wide class of dissipative quantum phases in topological or lattice systems. : /lookup/doi/10.1126/science.abe9869
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