Signatures of rare states and thermalization in a theory with confinement

Robinson, Neil J.; James, Andrew J. A. and Konik, Robert M. (2019). Signatures of rare states and thermalization in a theory with confinement. Physical Review B, 99(19), article no. 195108.



There is a dichotomy in the nonequilibrium dynamics of quantum many-body systems. In the presence of integrability, expectation values of local operators equilibrate to values described by a generalized Gibbs ensemble, which retains extensive memory about the initial state of the system. On the other hand, in generic systems such expectation values relax to stationary values described by the thermal ensemble, fixed solely by the energy of the state. At the heart of understanding, this dichotomy is the eigenstate thermalization hypothesis (ETH): individual eigenstates in nonintegrable systems are thermal, in the sense that expectation values agree with the thermal prediction at a temperature set by the energy of the eigenstate. In systems where ETH is violated, thermalization can be avoided. Thus, establishing the range of validity of ETH is crucial in understanding whether a given quantum system thermalizes. Here, we study a simple model with confinement, the quantum Ising chain with a longitudinal field, in which ETH is violated. Despite an absence of integrability, there exist rare (nonthermal) states that persist far into the spectrum. These arise as a direct consequence of confinement: pairs of particles are confined, forming new “meson” excitations whose energy can be extensive in the system size. We show that such states are nonthermal in both the continuum and in the low-energy spectrum of the corresponding lattice model. We highlight that the presence of such states within the spectrum has important consequences, with certain quenches leading to an absence of thermalization and local observables evolving anomalously.

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