Bound states of massive particles, such as nuclei, atoms or molecules, are ubiquitous in nature and constitute the bulk of the visible world around us. In contrast, photons typically only weakly influence each other due to their very weak interactions and vanishing mass. We report the observation of traveling three-photon bound states in a quantum nonlinear medium where the interactions between photons are mediated by atomic Rydberg states. In particular, photon correlation and conditional phase measurements reveal the distinct features associated with three-photon and two-photon bound states. Such photonic trimers and dimers can be viewed as quantum solitons with shape-preserving wavefunctions that depend on the constituent photon number. The observed bunching and strongly nonlinear optical phase are quantitatively described by an effective field theory (EFT) of Rydberg-induced photon-photon interactions, which demonstrates the presence of a substantial effective three-body force between the photons. These observations pave the way towards the realization, studies, and control of strongly interacting quantum many-body states of light.

1 aLiang, Qi-Yu1 aVenkatramani, Aditya, V.1 aCantu, Sergio, H.1 aNicholson, Travis, L.1 aGullans, Michael, J.1 aGorshkov, Alexey, V.1 aThompson, Jeff, D.1 aChin, Cheng1 aLukin, Mikhail, D.1 aVuletic, Vladan uhttp://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6377/783