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The fate of discrete 1-form symmetries in 6d

Fabio Apruzzi, Markus Dierigl, Ling Lin

SciPost Phys. 12, 047 (2022) · published 1 February 2022

Abstract

Recently introduced generalized global symmetries have been useful in order to understand non-perturbative aspects of quantum field theories in four and lower dimensions. In this paper we focus on 1-form symmetries of weakly coupled 6d supersymmetric gauge theories coupled to dynamical tensor multiplets. We study the consistency of global 1-form symmetries corresponding to the center of the gauge groups, or subgroups thereof, by activating their background fields, which makes the instanton density fractional. In 6d, an instanton background for a given gauge theory sources BPS strings via tadpole cancelation. The non-trivial 1-form symmetry background configurations contribute to the charge of the BPS strings. However, Dirac quantization imposes restrictions on the consistent 1-form backgrounds, since they can in general lead to and induce fractional charges, thus making (part of) the putative higher-form symmetry inconsistent. This gives explicit criteria to determine whether the discrete 1-form symmetries are realized. We implement these criteria in concrete examples originating from string compactifications. We also corroborate this by finding that a non-trivial fractional contribution is related to states which explicitly break the global 1-form symmetry appearing as massive excitations of the 6d BPS strings. For 6d theories consistently coupled to gravity, this hints at a symmetry breaking tower of states. When the fractional contributions are absent, the F-theory realization of the theories points to the gauging of the 1-form symmetry via the presence of non-trivial Mordell--Weil torsion.

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