Spontaneous symmetry breaking (SSB) occurs when noise triggers an initially symmetric system to evolve toward one of its nonsymmetric states. Topological and optical SSB involve material reconfiguration/transition and light propagation/distribution in time or space, respectively. In anisotropic optical media, light beam propagation and distribution of the optic axis can be linked, thereby connecting topological and optical SSB. Using nonlinear soft matter, namely uniaxial liquid crystals, we report on simultaneous topological and optical SSB, showing that spatial solitons enhance the noise-driven transition of the medium from a symmetric to an asymmetric configuration, while acquiring a power-dependent transverse velocity in either of two specular directions with respect to the initial wavevector. Solitons enhance SSB by further distorting the optic axis distribution through nonlinear reorientation, resulting in power-tunable walk-off as well as hysteresis in beam refraction versus angle of incidence.
Alberucci, A., Piccardi, A., Kravets, N., Buchnev, O., Assanto, G. (2015). Soliton enhancement of spontaneous symmetry breaking. OPTICA, 2(9), 783-789 [10.1364/OPTICA.2.000783].