Article | Published:

Observation of a transition from a topologically ordered to a spontaneously broken symmetry phase

Nature Physics volume 12, pages 191195 (2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

Until the late 1980s, phases of matter were understood in terms of Landau’s symmetry-breaking theory. Following the discovery of the quantum Hall effect, the introduction of a second class of phases, those with topological order, was necessary. Phase transitions within the first class of phases involve a change in symmetry, whereas those between topological phases require a change in topological order. However, in rare cases, transitions may occur between the two classes, in which the vanishing of the topological order is accompanied by the emergence of a broken symmetry. Here, we report the existence of such a transition in a two-dimensional electron gas hosted by a GaAs/AlGaAs crystal. When tuned by hydrostatic pressure, the ν = 5/2 fractional quantum Hall state, believed to be a prototypical non-Abelian topological phase, gives way to a quantum Hall nematic phase. Remarkably, this nematic phase develops spontaneously, in the absence of any externally applied symmetry-breaking fields.

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Acknowledgements

Sample growth and measurement at Purdue were supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering under the award DE-SC0006671. E.F. acknowledges the US National Science Foundation grant DMR 1408713. We thank J. P. Eisenstein for his comments and M. Siqueira for advice on using the pressure cell.

Author information

Author notes

    • N. Samkharadze
    •  & K. A. Schreiber

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

    • N. Samkharadze

    Present address: QuTech and Kavli Institute of NanoScience, Delft University of Technology, PO Box 5046, 2600 GA Delft, The Netherlands.

Affiliations

  1. Department of Physics and Astronomy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA

    • N. Samkharadze
    • , K. A. Schreiber
    • , M. J. Manfra
    •  & G. A. Csáthy
  2. School of Materials Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA

    • G. C. Gardner
    •  & M. J. Manfra
  3. Birck Nanotechnology Center, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA

    • G. C. Gardner
    • , M. J. Manfra
    •  & G. A. Csáthy
  4. School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA

    • M. J. Manfra
  5. Department of Physics and Institute for Condensed Matter Theory, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801-3080, USA

    • E. Fradkin

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Contributions

N.S., M.J.M. and G.A.C. conceived the experiment. G.C.G. and M.J.M. grew the GaAs/AlGaAs wafer. N.S. fabricated the sample. N.S., K.A.S. and G.A.C. performed the measurements and analysed the data. The manuscript was written by K.A.S. and G.A.C. with input from all authors and with critical contributions from E.F.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to N. Samkharadze or K. A. Schreiber or G. A. Csáthy.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys3523

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