We report the direct observation of the onset of turbulence in propagating one-dimensional optical waves. The transition occurs as the disordered hosting material passes from being linear to one with extreme nonlinearity. As the response grows, increased wave interaction causes a modulational unstable quasihomogeneous flow to be superseded by a chaotic and spatially incoherent one. Statistical analysis of high-resolution wave behavior in the turbulent regime unveils the emergence of concomitant rogue waves. The transition, observed in a photorefractive ferroelectric crystal, introduces a new and rich experimental setting for the study of optical wave turbulence and information transport in conditions dominated by large fluctuations and extreme nonlinearity.
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© 2016 American Physical Society.