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Observing the onset of effective mass of a Bose-Einstein condensate in an optical lattice


The concept of the effective mass is ubiquitous in the study of electronic conduction in solid state physics, allowing for a semi-classical treatment of a particle's response to an external force.  However, in 1954 Pfirsch and Spenke [1] predicted that this description breaks down on very short timescales, and that the initial response to a force is in fact described by the bare mass.  For typical solid state systems, the fast timescales of these dynamics have thus far prohibited observation of this phenomenon.  Here, we report on the first experimental observation of effective mass dynamics using a Bose-Einstein condensate of Rubidium-87 atoms initially in the ground band of an optical lattice.  By studying the response of the particles to an abruptly applied force, we show that, while the long timescale dynamics are described by the effective mass, the initial response is indifferent to the presence of the lattice.

[1] D. Pfirsch & E. Spenke, Die effektive masse eines kristallelektrons und das Ehrenfestsche theorem,
Z. Phys. 137, 309 (1954).