Dynamical Aspects of Topological Quantum Systems

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McGinley, Maximilian  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3122-2207

Topological phases of matter are understood to be characterized by particular configurations of entanglement encoded within the ground states of many-body quantum systems. In this thesis, we discuss how novel phenomena associated with topological phases can arise in systems that are driven out of equilibrium or coupled to their surroundings, which are not described by ground state physics.

Firstly, we consider systems undergoing unitary time evolution due to some external driving. We show how the entanglement features of the time-dependent wavefunction can be topologically characterized, and demonstrate that these topological properties are reflected in the dynamics of various quantities usually associated with topological phases in equilibrium. We introduce a new non-equilibrium topological classification scheme which can be used to predict whether or not the topological features of a given system will be preserved under time evolution. In brief, this classification captures the fact that certain symmetries (namely antiunitary symmetries) are inevitably broken once the system is driven out of equilibrium; thus any topological phenomena protected by such symmetries cannot be expected to persist in non-equilibrium scenarios.

Secondly, we investigate how topologically non-trivial systems are affected by dissipative effects, i.e.~coupling to an external environment. We demonstrate that system-environment interactions facilitate processes in the system that effectively break any antiunitary symmetries, regardless of the symmetries of the microscopic Hamiltonian. Accordingly, those phases that were shown to be unstable against time-dependent driving are also fragile against coupling to an environment. To illustrate the consequences of this fragility, we consider the effects of dissipation on the coherence properties of topological bound states, as well as the conductance properties of chiral and helical topological edge modes. We find that the decoherence rate of the former and the deviation from quantized conductivity of the latter are (not) exponentially suppressed in the inverse temperature when the phase in question is protected by unitary (antiunitary) symmetries. These results regarding open systems can be connected to the same non-equilibrium classification developed in the context of isolated systems undergoing unitary dynamics.

Our findings highlight a distinction between topological phases that are either robust or fragile against non-equilibrium effects and/or system-environment coupling. The ramifications for the use of such systems in quantum technologies are discussed.

Cooper, Nigel
Quantum physics, Topological phases of matter, Non-equilibrium dynamics, Open quantum systems
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
EPSRC Studentship