Research ArticlesPhysics

Exploring the many-body localization transition in two dimensions

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Science  24 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6293, pp. 1547-1552
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8834

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Bosons refusing to thermalize in 2D

Messy, interacting quantum-mechanical systems are difficult to analyze theoretically. In a single spatial dimension, the calculations are still tractable, and experiments have recently confirmed the prediction that sufficiently strong disorder can disrupt the transport of interacting particles. In two dimensions, however, the theoretical blueprint is missing. Choi et al. used single-site imaging of cold 87Rb atoms in an optical lattice to show that similar localization occurs in two-dimensional (2D) systems. The study highlights the power of quantum simulation to solve problems that are currently inaccessible to classical computing techniques.

Science, this issue p. 1547


A fundamental assumption in statistical physics is that generic closed quantum many-body systems thermalize under their own dynamics. Recently, the emergence of many-body localized systems has questioned this concept and challenged our understanding of the connection between statistical physics and quantum mechanics. Here we report on the observation of a many-body localization transition between thermal and localized phases for bosons in a two-dimensional disordered optical lattice. With our single-site–resolved measurements, we track the relaxation dynamics of an initially prepared out-of-equilibrium density pattern and find strong evidence for a diverging length scale when approaching the localization transition. Our experiments represent a demonstration and in-depth characterization of many-body localization in a regime not accessible with state-of-the-art simulations on classical computers.

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