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Higher-form subsystem symmetry breaking: Subdimensional criticality and fracton phase transitions

Brandon C. Rayhaun, Dominic J. Williamson

SciPost Phys. 15, 017 (2023) · published 19 July 2023


Subsystem symmetry has emerged as a powerful organizing principle for unconventional quantum phases of matter, most prominently fracton topological orders. Here, we focus on a special subclass of such symmetries, known as higher-form subsystem symmetries, which allow us to adapt tools from the study of conventional topological phases to the fracton setting. We demonstrate that certain transitions out of familiar fracton phases, including the X-cube model, can be understood in terms of the spontaneous breaking of higher-form subsystem symmetries. We find simple pictures for these seemingly complicated fracton topological phase transitions by relating them in an exact manner, via gauging, to spontaneous higher-form subsystem symmetry breaking phase transitions of decoupled stacks of lower-dimensional models. We harness this perspective to construct a sequence of unconventional subdimensional critical points in two and three spatial dimensions based on the stacking and gauging of canonical models with higher-form symmetry. Through numerous examples, we illustrate the ubiquity of coupled layer constructions in theories with higher-form subsystem symmetries.

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