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Ergodicity Breaking in Quantum Matter: From Many-Body Localisation to Quantum Glasses

Project description

Quantum systems impervious to thermal changes could spark advances in future information storage

Complex quantum systems typically relax fast to thermal behaviour if left on their own, just as ice cubes dropped into a drink are expected to melt. This could pose a serious barrier to the development of future quantum storage systems as they would not be able to retrieve data. New studies suggest that a quantum system could resist thermal changes in its environment through a mechanism known as ergodicity breaking, which ‘freezes’ the system close to its initial state for a very long time. Funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, the EBQM project will thoroughly study two mechanisms of ergodicity breaking: many-body localisation and quantum glasses. Deeper understanding of these mechanisms could help engineer quantum matter impervious to thermalisation.


Left to their own devices, typical physical systems will eventually reach thermal equilibrium with their environment. While a familiar feature of life in the classical world – think of ice melting in a drink, or coffee cooling to room temperature – this process of thermalisation can pose a serious problem for quantum technologies.

When a physical system thermalises, any information once contained in it is scrambled, essentially lost to the environment - the coffee does not ‘remember’ it was once hot, nor does the drink ‘remember’ it once contained an ice cube. The same principle holds true for quantum systems: if they undergo thermalisation, they will effectively have lost all information about how they were initially prepared. For future quantum technologies which will rely on the storage and retrieval of information (such as quantum computers), this loss of memory could be disastrous.

It turns out to be possible to prevent quantum systems from thermalising through a mechanism known as ergodicity breaking, which 'freezes' the system close to its initial state for a very long - possibly even infinite - amount of time. This is most commonly achieved through the addition of disorder. There are two key examples of so-called 'strong ergodicity breaking', namely many-body localisation (MBL) and quantum glasses. Both exhibit very different properties - MBL is a property of highly excited states of quantum systems that requires them to be isolated from their surroundings, whereas quantum glasses are low temperature states which exhibit a remarkable robustness towards coupling with their environment. While both effects are ostensibly of different origin, there is good reason to believe that they are deeply linked, and that by combining the strengths of both, we may be able to theoretically engineer robust mechanisms for inhibiting the thermalisation of quantum systems that will have a significant impact on future quantum technologies. That is the goal of this proposal.


Net EU contribution
€ 174 806,40
14195 Berlin

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Berlin Berlin Berlin
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 174 806,40