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Soliton water waves can travel several kilometers without any significant change in their shape or amplitude, as opposed to normal waves, which widen as they travel, and eventually disappear. Discovered over 150 years ago in water canals, solitons represent a surprising phenomenon of wave propagation and have been observed in natural phenomena including moving sand dunes and space plasmas. A unique aspect of solitons is that they can retain their shape because of non-linear and dispersive effects that stabilize the wave. Solitons can even occur as pulses of light that can propagate through a suitable transparent medium, e.g. an optical telecommunication fiber.

Publishing in Nature Photonics, EPFL scientists collaborating with the Russian Quantum Center and the M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University have now discovered that so-called optical dissipative solitons can also exist in small millimeter-size optical resonators.

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