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Tom Hodson

Physicist, Programmer, Maker and Baker

Large systems of interacting objects can give rise to a rich array of emergent behaviours. Make those objects quantum and the possibilities only expand. Interacting quantum many-body systems, as such systems are called, include essentially all physical systems. Luckily, we don’t usually need to consider this full quantum many-body description. The world at the human scale is essentially classical (not quantum), while at the microscopic scale of condensed matter physics we can often get by without interactions. Strongly correlated materials, however, do require the full description. Some of the most exciting topics in modern condensed matter fall under this umbrella: the spin liquids, the fractional quantum Hall effect, high temperature superconductivity and much more. Unfortunately, strongly correlated materials are notoriously difficult to study, defying many of the established theoretical techniques within the field. Enter exactly solvable models, these are interacting quantum many-body systems with extensively many local symmetries. The symmetries give rise to conserved charges. These charges break the model up into many non-interacting quantum systems which are more amenable to standard theoretical techniques. This thesis will focus on two such exactly solvable models.

The first, the Falicov-Kimball (FK) model is an exactly solvable limit of the famous Hubbard model which describes itinerant fermions interacting with a classical Ising background field. Originally introduced to explain metal-insulator transitions, it has a rich set of ground state and thermodynamic phases. Disorder or interactions can turn metals into insulators and the FK model features both transitions. We will define a generalised FK model in 1D with long-range interactions. This model shows a similarly rich phase diagram to its higher dimensional cousins. We use an exact Markov Chain Monte Carlo method to map the phase diagram and compute the energy resolved localisation properties of the fermions. This allows us to look at how the move to 1D affects the physics of the model. We show that the model can be understood by comparison to a simpler model of fermions coupled to binary disorder.

The second, the Kitaev Honeycomb (KH) model, was one of the the first solvable 2D models with a Quantum Spin Liquid (QSL) ground state. QSLs are generally expected to arise from Mott insulators, when frustration prevents magnetic ordering all the way to zero temperature. The QSL state defies the traditional Landau-Ginzburg-Wilson paradigm of phases being defined by local order parameters. It is instead a topologically ordered phase. Recent work generalising non-interacting topological insulator phases to amorphous lattices raises the question of whether interacting phases like the QSLs can be similarly generalised. We extend the KH model to random lattices with fixed coordination number three generated by Voronoi partitions of the plane. We show that this model remains solvable and hosts a chiral amorphous QSL ground state. The presence of plaquettes with an odd number of sides leads to a spontaneous breaking of time reversal symmetry. We unearth a rich phase diagram displaying Abelian as well as a non-Abelian QSL phases with a remarkably simple ground state flux pattern. Furthermore, we show that the system undergoes a phase transition to a conducting thermal metal state and discuss possible experimental realisations.