Operator hydrodynamics, OTOCs, and entanglement growth in systems without conservation laws

C. W. Von Keyserlingk, Tibor Rakovszky, Frank Pollmann, S. L. Sondhi

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194 Citations (Scopus)
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Thermalization and scrambling are the subject of much recent study from the perspective of many-body quantum systems with locally bounded Hilbert spaces (“spin chains”), quantum field theory, and holography. We tackle this problem in 1D spin chains evolving under random local unitary circuits and prove a number of exact results on the behavior of out-of-time-ordered commutators (OTOCs) and entanglement growth in this setting. These results follow from the observation that the spreading of operators in random circuits is described by a “hydrodynamical” equation of motion, despite the fact that random unitary circuits do not have locally conserved quantities (e.g., no conserved energy). In this hydrodynamic picture, quantum information travels in a front with a “butterfly velocity” vB that is smaller than the light-cone velocity of the system, while the front itself broadens diffusively in time. The OTOC increases sharply after the arrival of the light cone, but we do not observe a prolonged exponential regime of the form ∼eλL(t−x/v) for a fixed Lyapunov exponent λL. We find that the diffusive broadening of the front has important consequences for entanglement growth, leading to an entanglement velocity that can be significantly smaller than the butterfly velocity. We conjecture that the hydrodynamical description applies to more generic Floquet ergodic systems, and we support this idea by verifying numerically that the diffusive broadening of the operator wavefront also holds in a more traditional nonrandom Floquet spin chain. We also compare our results to Clifford circuits, which have less rich hydrodynamics and consequently trivial OTOC behavior, but which can nevertheless exhibit linear entanglement growth and thermalization.
Original languageEnglish
Article number021013
Number of pages19
JournalPhysical Review X
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2018


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