The dynamics of an order parameter's amplitude and phase determines the collective behaviour of novel states emerging in complex materials. Time- and momentum-resolved pump-probe spectroscopy, by virtue of measuring material properties at atomic and electronic time scales out of equilibrium, can decouple entangled degrees of freedom by visualizing their corresponding dynamics in the time domain. Here we combine time-resolved femotosecond optical and resonant X-ray diffraction measurements on charge ordered La1.75Sr0.25NiO4 to reveal unforeseen photoinduced phase fluctuations of the charge order parameter. Such fluctuations preserve long-range order without creating topological defects, distinct from thermal phase fluctuations near the critical temperature in equilibrium. Importantly, relaxation of the phase fluctuations is found to be an order of magnitude slower than that of the order parameter's amplitude fluctuations, and thus limits charge order recovery. This new aspect of phase fluctuations provides a more holistic view of the phase's importance in ordering phenomena of quantum matter.
The original publication is available by link DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1837