Atom Optics ,

New York
, 2001. $59.95 (311 pp.). ISBN 0-387-95274-8

By the middle of the 20th century, light–matter interaction physics (optics) was finally established. Following the progress made in studying statistical effects in radio electronics (radar, communications), the development of statistical optics and coherence effects was coming to a close. Nobody could believe that optics would return from the physics rearguard to the forefront.

The discovery of the laser, perhaps one of most important scientific instrument developments of the past century, brought optics back to prominence. There followed the discovery of nonlinear optics, coherent optics and holography, quantum optics, and finally atom optics. In atom optics it is not that atoms affect light but that light exerts an effect on the state of motion of atoms, and the atoms themselves behave like waves. In this process the particle–wave dualism becomes a vivid manifestation of interrelation and unity in nature. I experienced a true sense of the beauty of physics when I started working in this field a few decades ago. It was perhaps at that time that I came to believe that laser light could do literally everything. And now that laser physicists are advancing toward the realization that light can not only control matter but also create it, by super-intense femtosecond pulses, I may turn out to have been right.

Atom optics today has reached maturity: It has become both wave (coherent) and nonlinear atom optics. Of course that expansion required generalization in a new book. Pierre Meystre has taken just such a generalist approach in his timely Atom Optics . His were the pioneering works in atom optics; to get information from the first explorer is always most valuable to the reader. (I tried in 1995 to summarize the first stage in the development of atom optics, geometrical atom optics in the main, in a small book written in collaboration with Viktor Balykin: Atom Optics with Laser Light, Harwood Academic.)

Meystre’s book consists of three parts in logical sequence: linear, geometrical, and wave atom optics; nonlinear atom optics; and quantum atom optics. The first part generalizes the most thoroughly developed area of atom optics. The author next turns to the new aspects that have just started to be developed, largely under the influence of his work; the contents of the second and third parts are addressed to future researchers in nonlinear and quantum atom optics.

It is very important that the author considers collisional effects in atom optics, especially in the atom laser, in which they play a dual role. The characteristics of a photonic laser always grow better and approach the ultimate as the occupation number n of the lasing modes is increased by photons; the loading of the modes results from a stimulated emission process that does not depend directly on collisions. The situation in an atomic laser is entirely different. Collisions are necessary to load atoms into the atomic collective wave mode of a Bose–Einstein condensate, and as the occupation number nat of the atomic mode is increased, the reverse process starts, in which collisions restrict nat.

The circle of potential readers of the book is very wide—from graduate students to professors (and possibly to atomic engineers in the future). I recall the talk I had with Peter Kapitza some 30 years ago, when he recalled the advice that his teacher, Ernest Rutherford, would offer speakers about to address Royal Society meetings. The first part of the talk should be comprehensible to the wives of the RS members, he would say, the second to the RS members themselves, and the third might not be even very comprehensible to the speaker. I note with pleasure that Meystre’s book seems to follow this recipe. And I therefore recommend it to all strata of the physics community.