Infoscience

Thesis

Dimerization and exotic criticality in spin-S chains

In this thesis we have studied the emergence of spontaneously dimerized phases in frustrated spin-S chains, with emphasis on the nature of the critical lines between the dimerized and non-dimerized phases. The main numerical method used in this thesis is the Density Matrix Renormalization Group (DMRG). The DMRG algorithm is a relatively old and well established method for the investigation of the ground-state. In this thesis, we show how to use this algorithm to calculate the excitation spectra of one-dimensional critical systems, known in the context of conformal field theory as conformal towers of states. We have demonstrated that the method works very well for two simple minimal models (the transverse-field Ising model and the three-state Potts model), and we have used it systematically to identify the universality classes and the underlying conformal field theories of various one-dimensional spin systems. It has been known for a long time that the transition to a spontaneously dimerized phase in a spin-1 chain can be either continuous, in the Wess-Zumino-Witten (WZW) SU(2) level 2 universality class, or first order. By combining a careful numerical investigation with a conformal field theory analysis, we were able to detect in a frustrated spin-1 chain with competing next-nearest-neighbor and three-site interactions the presence of yet another type of continuous phase transition that belongs to the Ising universality class. In contrast to the WZW SU(2) level 2 critical line, at which the singlet-triplet gap closes, the Ising transition occurs entirely in the singlet sector, while the singlet-triplet gap remains open. The use of the standard DMRG approach, along the lines mentioned above, has allowed us to provide explicit numerical evidence for the presence of a conformal tower of singlets inside the spin gap. Moreover, according to field theory, a WZW SU(2) level k critical line can turn into a first order transition due to the presence of a marginal operator in the WZW SU(2) level k model. A careful investigation of the conformal towers along the critical lines has allowed us to find the precise location of this point in both S=1 and S=3/2 chains. We have also shown that the nature of the continuous dimerization transitions is related to the topological properties of the corresponding phases, and that the phase diagrams of various frustrated spin chains can be effectively extracted by looking at the local topological order parameter - the degeneracy of the lowest state in the entanglement spectrum. When coupled with the conformal field theory of open systems, DMRG appears to be an extremely powerful tool to characterize not only the phase diagram and the ground-state correlations of quantum one-dimensional systems, but also the excitation spectrum and the conformal structure along critical lines.

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