Research ArticleQuantum Gases

Observation of many-body localization of interacting fermions in a quasi-random optical lattice

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Science  30 Jul 2015:
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa7432

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Many-body localization (MBL), the disorder-induced localization of interacting particles, signals a breakdown of conventional thermodynamics, as MBL systems do not thermalize and show non-ergodic time evolution. We experimentally observe this non-ergodic evolution for interacting fermions in a one-dimensional quasi-random optical lattice and identify the many-body localization transition through the relaxation dynamics of an initially-prepared charge density wave. For sufficiently weak disorder the time evolution appears ergodic and thermalizing, erasing all initial ordering, whereas above a critical disorder strength a significant portion of the initial ordering persists. The critical disorder value shows a distinctive dependence on the interaction strength, in agreement with numerical simulations. Our experiment paves the way to further detailed studies of many-body localization, for instance in non-correlated disorder or higher dimensions.

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