This talk will discuss how tailored light pulses can provide a non-thermal handle to control, probe, manipulate or induce new electronic or magnetic phases in correlated electron systems and quantum magnets. I will argue that symmetries and statistical considerations in driven systems can yield universal features that determine the non-equilibrium state, dictate dynamics on different time scales as well as point towards new tools to study quantum systems far from equilibrium.
One of the most fascinating aspects of non-equilibrium physics is that a macroscopic quantum system pushed out of equilibrium can exhibit markedly different dynamics when probed on different time scales. Pioneered in time-resolved condensed matter experiments and ultracold atoms, the idea to use external driving such as strong optical pulses holds promise to exceed the limitations set by chemistry and push materials into non-equilibrium states with novel or useful properties. However, a characterization of thermalization, order and dynamics far from equilibrium remains a fundamental challenge.