Letter | Published:

Pinning quantum phase transition for a Luttinger liquid of strongly interacting bosons

Nature volume 466, pages 597600 (29 July 2010) | Download Citation


Quantum many-body systems can have phase transitions1 even at zero temperature; fluctuations arising from Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, as opposed to thermal effects, drive the system from one phase to another. Typically, during the transition the relative strength of two competing terms in the system’s Hamiltonian changes across a finite critical value. A well-known example is the Mott–Hubbard quantum phase transition from a superfluid to an insulating phase2,3, which has been observed for weakly interacting bosonic atomic gases. However, for strongly interacting quantum systems confined to lower-dimensional geometry, a novel type4,5 of quantum phase transition may be induced and driven by an arbitrarily weak perturbation to the Hamiltonian. Here we observe such an effect—the sine–Gordon quantum phase transition from a superfluid Luttinger liquid to a Mott insulator6,7—in a one-dimensional quantum gas of bosonic caesium atoms with tunable interactions. For sufficiently strong interactions, the transition is induced by adding an arbitrarily weak optical lattice commensurate with the atomic granularity, which leads to immediate pinning of the atoms. We map out the phase diagram and find that our measurements in the strongly interacting regime agree well with a quantum field description based on the exactly solvable sine–Gordon model8. We trace the phase boundary all the way to the weakly interacting regime, where we find good agreement with the predictions of the one-dimensional Bose–Hubbard model. Our results open up the experimental study of quantum phase transitions, criticality and transport phenomena beyond Hubbard-type models in the context of ultracold gases.

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We thank W. Zwerger for discussions. We are indebted to R. Grimm for generous support. We gratefully acknowledge funding by the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research (Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung) and the Austrian Science Fund (Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung) in the form of a START prize grant, and by the European Union through the STREP FP7-ICT-2007-C project NAME-QUAM (Nanodesigning of Atomic and Molecular Quantum Matter) and within the framework of the EuroQUASAR collective research project QuDeGPM. R.H. is supported by a Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship within the 7th European Community Framework Programme.

Author information


  1. Institut für Experimentalphysik und Zentrum für Quantenphysik, Universität Innsbruck, Technikerstraße 25, A–6020 Innsbruck, Austria

    • Elmar Haller
    • , Russell Hart
    • , Manfred J. Mark
    • , Johann G. Danzl
    • , Lukas Reichsöllner
    • , Mattias Gustavsson
    •  & Hanns-Christoph Nägerl
  2. Institut für Theoretische Physik, Universität Innsbruck, Technikerstraße 25, A–6020 Innsbruck, Austria

    • Marcello Dalmonte
    •  & Guido Pupillo
  3. Institut für Quantenoptik und Quanteninformation der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Technikerstraße 21a, A–6020 Innsbruck, Austria

    • Marcello Dalmonte
    •  & Guido Pupillo
  4. Dipartimento di Fisica dell’Università di Bologna, Via Irnerio 46, 40127 Bologna, Italy

    • Marcello Dalmonte
  5. Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, Via Irnerio 46, 40127 Bologna, Italy

    • Marcello Dalmonte


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The experimental work was done by E.H., R.H., M.J.M., J.G.D, L.R., M.G. and H.-C.N. Theoretical analysis and support was provided by M.D. and G.P. The manuscript was written with substantial contributions from all authors.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Hanns-Christoph Nägerl.

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