Bistable Beam Propagation in Liquid Crystals
Light-controlling-light is one of the most advanced paradigms in optical signal processing, including light-induced waveguides as well as all-optical switching and routing. Other fundamental aspects of all-optical processing are optical memories and sequential elements, which require responses depending on the evolution history of the system, such as the hysteresis stemming from optical multistability. Hereby, we report on optical bistability and hysteresis in cavityless geometries and in the presence of self-localized beams, i.e., spatial optical solitons, exploiting the nonlocal reorientational nonlinearity of nematic liquid crystals (NLC). When the optic axis of NLC is initially orthogonal to the applied electric field, the molecular dipoles start to rotate above a threshold named after the Fréedericksz transition, the latter being usually of the second order. Here, we show that such transition become of the first order via the intrinsic feedback provided by self-focusing, in turn leading to the appearance of a hysteresis loop between diffracting and self-confined beams. We report on hysteresis of the beam size versus input power, as well as hysteresis versus applied voltage at a fixed beam power. Our findings introduce a novel kind of cavity-less optical bistability with propagating light beams and disclose a novel approach to information storage based on light self-localization.