Research ArticleQuantum Mechanics

Observation of prethermalization in long-range interacting spin chains

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Science Advances  25 Aug 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 8, e1700672
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700672

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Although statistical mechanics describes thermal equilibrium states, these states may or may not emerge dynamically for a subsystem of an isolated quantum many-body system. For instance, quantum systems that are near-integrable usually fail to thermalize in an experimentally realistic time scale, and instead relax to quasi-stationary prethermal states that can be described by statistical mechanics, when approximately conserved quantities are included in a generalized Gibbs ensemble (GGE). We experimentally study the relaxation dynamics of a chain of up to 22 spins evolving under a long-range transverse-field Ising Hamiltonian following a sudden quench. For sufficiently long-range interactions, the system relaxes to a new type of prethermal state that retains a strong memory of the initial conditions. However, the prethermal state in this case cannot be described by a standard GGE; it rather arises from an emergent double-well potential felt by the spin excitations. This result shows that prethermalization occurs in a broader context than previously thought, and reveals new challenges for a generic understanding of the thermalization of quantum systems, particularly in the presence of long-range interactions.

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