Observation of second-order meron polarization textures in optical microcavities

Multicomponent Bose–Einstein condensates, quantum Hall systems, and chiral magnetic materials display twists and knots in the continuous symmetries of their order parameters known as skyrmions. Originally discovered as solutions to the nonlinear sigma model in quantum field theory, these vectorial excitations are quantified by a topological winding number dictating their interactions and global properties of the host system. Here, we report the experimental observation of a stable individual second-order meron and antimeron appearing in an electromagnetic field. We realize these complex textures by confining light into a liquid-crystal-filled cavity that, through its anisotropic refractive index, provides an adjustable artificial photonic gauge field that couples the cavity photon motion to its polarization, resulting in the formation of these fundamental vectorial vortex states of light. Our observations could help bring topologically robust room-temperature optical vector textures into the field of photonic information processing and storage.