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Observation of Stark many-body localization without disorder
Nature  (IF49.962),  Pub Date : 2021-11-17, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03988-0
W. Morong, F. Liu, P. Becker, K. S. Collins, L. Feng, A. Kyprianidis, G. Pagano, T. You, A. V. Gorshkov, C. Monroe

Thermalization is a ubiquitous process of statistical physics, in which a physical system reaches an equilibrium state that is defined by a few global properties such as temperature. Even in isolated quantum many-body systems, limited to reversible dynamics, thermalization typically prevails1. However, in these systems, there is another possibility: many-body localization (MBL) can result in preservation of a non-thermal state2,3. While disorder has long been considered an essential ingredient for this phenomenon, recent theoretical work has suggested that a quantum many-body system with a spatially increasing field—but no disorder—can also exhibit MBL4, resulting in ‘Stark MBL’5. Here we realize Stark MBL in a trapped-ion quantum simulator and demonstrate its key properties: halting of thermalization and slow propagation of correlations. Tailoring the interactions between ionic spins in an effective field gradient, we directly observe their microscopic equilibration for a variety of initial states, and we apply single-site control to measure correlations between separate regions of the spin chain. Furthermore, by engineering a varying gradient, we create a disorder-free system with coexisting long-lived thermalized and non-thermal regions. The results demonstrate the unexpected generality of MBL, with implications about the fundamental requirements for thermalization and with potential uses in engineering long-lived non-equilibrium quantum matter.