Self-organized criticality is an elegant explanation of how complex structures emerge and persist throughout nature, and why such structures often exhibit similar scale-invariant properties. Although self-organized criticality is sometimes captured by simple models that feature a critical point as an attractor for the dynamics, the connection to real-world systems is exceptionally hard to test quantitatively. Here we observe three key signatures of self-organized criticality in the dynamics of a driven–dissipative gas of ultracold potassium atoms: self-organization to a stationary state that is largely independent of the initial conditions; scale-invariance of the final density characterized by a unique scaling function; and large fluctuations of the number of excited atoms (avalanches) obeying a characteristic power-law distribution. This work establishes a well-controlled platform for investigating self-organization phenomena and non-equilibrium criticality, with experimental access to the underlying microscopic details of the system.


S. Helmrich, A. Arias, G. Lochead, M. Buchhold, S. Diehl, S. Whitlock: Signatures of Self-Organised Criticality in an Ultracold Atomic Gas, Nature 577 (2020).


Related to Project A05