Polarization switching of light in a degenerate two-level medium, known as the lambda-configuration, is described. The polarization dynamics of light pulses is investigated by means of the inverse scattering transform. The mathematical formalism of the inverse scattering transform that takes into account the initial fluctuations of the medium polarization components corresponding to atomic transitions between the excited state and the two degenerate ground sub-levels in lambda-configuration atomic system is formulated. The characteristic switching length is evaluated via the physical parameters of the prepared medium and the optical pulse.

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This work was partly supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through grant DE-FG02-93ER25154, the National Science Foundation through grants DMS-9403750, DMS-9502142, and DMS-9510728, the ARO-FE grant N62649-01-1-0002, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation through a Sloan Research Fellowship.

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