Nonequilibrium phase transitions play a pivotal role in broad physical contexts, from condensed matter to cosmology. Tracking the formation of nonequilibrium phases in condensed matter requires a resolution of the long-range cooperativity on ultra-short timescales. Here, we study the spontaneous transformation of a charge-density wave in CeTe3 from a stripe order into a bi-directional state inaccessible thermodynamically but is induced by intense laser pulses. With ≈100 fs resolution coherent electron diffraction, we capture the entire course of this transformation and show self-organization that defines a nonthermal critical point, unveiling the nonequilibrium energy landscape. We discuss the generation of instabilities by a swift interaction quench that changes the system symmetry preference, and the phase ordering dynamics orchestrated over a nonadiabatic timescale to allow new order parameter fluctuations to gain long-range correlations. Remarkably, the subsequent thermalization locks the remnants of the transient order into longer-lived topological defects for more than 2 ns.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Physics and Astronomy
- General Chemistry
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology