The theory of quantum phase transitions separating different phases with distinct symmetry patterns at zero temperature is one of the foundations of modern quantum many-body physics. Here we demonstrate that the existence of a two-dimensional topological phase transition between a higher-order topological insulator (HOTI) and a trivial Mott insulator with the same symmetry eludes this paradigm. We present a theory of this quantum critical point (QCP) driven by the fluctuations and percolation of the domain walls between a HOTI and a trivial Mott insulator region. Due to the spinon zero modes that decorate the rough corners of the domain walls, the fluctuations of the phase boundaries trigger a spinon-dipole hopping term with fracton dynamics. Hence we find that the QCP is characterized by a critical dipole liquid theory with subsystem U(1) symmetry and the breakdown of the area law entanglement entropy which exhibits a logarithmic enhancement: Lln(L). Using the density matrix renormalization group method, we analyze the dipole stiffness together with the structure factor at the QCP, which provides strong evidence of a critical dipole liquid with a Bose surface, UV-IR mixing, and a dispersion relation ω=kxky.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
- Condensed Matter Physics