Quantum Criticality in an Ising Chain: Experimental Evidence for Emergent E8 Symmetry

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Science  08 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5962, pp. 177-180
DOI: 10.1126/science.1180085

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Quantum phase transitions take place between distinct phases of matter at zero temperature. Near the transition point, exotic quantum symmetries can emerge that govern the excitation spectrum of the system. A symmetry described by the E8 Lie group with a spectrum of eight particles was long predicted to appear near the critical point of an Ising chain. We realize this system experimentally by using strong transverse magnetic fields to tune the quasi–one-dimensional Ising ferromagnet CoNb2O6 (cobalt niobate) through its critical point. Spin excitations are observed to change character from pairs of kinks in the ordered phase to spin-flips in the paramagnetic phase. Just below the critical field, the spin dynamics shows a fine structure with two sharp modes at low energies, in a ratio that approaches the golden mean predicted for the first two meson particles of the E8 spectrum. Our results demonstrate the power of symmetry to describe complex quantum behaviors.

  • Present address: Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie, Lise Meitner Campus, Glienicker Str. 100, D-14109 Berlin, Germany.

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