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Universal features of higher-form symmetries at phase transitions

Xiao-Chuan Wu, Chao-Ming Jian, Cenke Xu

SciPost Phys. 11, 033 (2021) · published 18 August 2021


We investigate the behavior of higher-form symmetries at various quantum phase transitions. We consider discrete 1-form symmetries, which can be either part of the generalized concept ``categorical symmetry" (labelled as $\tilde{Z}_N^{(1)}$) introduced recently, or an explicit $Z_N^{(1)}$ 1-form symmetry. We demonstrate that for many quantum phase transitions involving a $Z_N^{(1)}$ or $\tilde{Z}_N^{(1)}$ symmetry, the following expectation value $ \langle \left( \log O_\mathcal{C} \right)^2 \rangle$ takes the form $\langle \left( \log O_\mathcal{C} \right)^2 \rangle \sim - \frac{A}{\epsilon} P+ b \log P $, where $O_\mathcal{C} $ is an operator defined associated with loop $\mathcal{C} $ (or its interior $\mathcal{A} $), which reduces to the Wilson loop operator for cases with an explicit $Z_N^{(1)}$ 1-form symmetry. $P$ is the perimeter of $\mathcal{C} $, and the $b \log P$ term arises from the sharp corners of the loop $\mathcal{C} $, which is consistent with recent numerics on a particular example. $b$ is a universal microscopic-independent number, which in $(2+1)d$ is related to the universal conductivity at the quantum phase transition. $b$ can be computed exactly for certain transitions using the dualities between $(2+1)d$ conformal field theories developed in recent years. We also compute the ``strange correlator" of $O_\mathcal{C} $: $S_{\mathcal{C} } = \langle 0 | O_\mathcal{C} | 1 \rangle / \langle 0 | 1 \rangle$ where $|0\rangle$ and $|1\rangle$ are many-body states with different topological nature.

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