Spontaneous avalanche to plasma splits the core of an ellipsoidal Rydberg gas of nitric oxide. Ambipolar expansion first quenches the electron temperature of this core plasma. Then, long-range, resonant charge transfer from ballistic ions to frozen Rydberg molecules in the wings of the ellipsoid quenches the centre-of-mass ion / Rydberg molecule velocity distribution. This sequence of steps gives rise to a remarkable mechanics of self-assembly, in which the kinetic energy of initially formed hot electrons and ions drives an observed separation of plasma volumes. These dynamics adiabatically sequester energy in a reservoir of mass transport, starting a process that anneals separating volumes to form an apparent glass of strongly coupled ions and electrons. Short-time electron spectroscopy provides experimental evidence for complete ionization. The long lifetime of this system, particularly its stability with respect to recombination and neutral dissociation, suggests that this transformation affords a robust state of arrested relaxation, far from thermal equilibrium. We argue that this state of the quenched ultracold plasma offers an experimental platform for studying quantum many-body physics of disordered systems in the long-time and finite energy-density limits. The qualitative features of the arrested state fail to conform with classical models. Here, we develop a microscopic quantum description for the arrested phase based on an effective many-body spin Hamiltonian that includes both dipole-dipole and van der Waals interactions. This effective model offers a way to envision the quantum disordered non-equilibrium physics of this system.
Go to day