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Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking in Nonrelativistic Systems


The subject of condensed matter physics is very rich — there are an infinite number of parameters producing a diversity of exciting phenomena. As a theorist, my goal is to distill general principles out of this complexity — to construct theories that can coherently explain many known examples altogether.

This thesis is composed of several attempts to develop such theories in topics related to spontaneously symmetry breaking. A remarkable feature of many-body interacting systems is that although they are described by equations respecting various symmetries, they may spontaneously organize into a state that explicitly breaks symmetries. Examples are numerous: various types of crystalline and magnetic orders, Bose-Einstein condensates of cold atoms, superfluids of liquid helium, chiral symmetry in QCD, neutron stars, and cosmic inflation.

These systems with spontaneously broken continuous symmetries have gapless excitations, so called Nambu-Goldstone bosons (NGBs). Although the properties of NGBs are well understood in Lorentz-invariant systems, surprisingly, some basic properties of NGBs such as their number and dispersion in nonrelativistic systems have not been discussed from a general perspective. In the first part of this thesis, we solve this issue by developing and analyzing an effective Lagrangian that coherently captures the low-energy, long-distance physics of many different symmetry-breaking states all at once.

Next, we examine whether these NGBs originating from spontaneous symmetry breaking remain to be well-defined excitations inside a metal, where low-energy electrons near Fermi surface can collide with them. Our result is a one equation criterion that specifies whether the interactions between electrons and NGBs can be ignored, or whether it completely changes their character. In the latter case, unusual phases of matter such as non-Fermi liquids may arise; in that case, NGBs are overdamped and cannot form particle-like excitations in spite of the assumed symmetry breaking.

In the last part of this thesis, we investigate the possibility of spontaneously breaking of Hamiltonian itself. The homogeneity of time is one of the most fundamental symmetries of nature, underlying the conservation of the energy. The question is whether this symmetry can be spontaneously broken, as suggested recently by Wilczek, in analogy with ordinary crystals. Contrary to his proposal that attracted a significant attention and stimulated many further studies, we prove a no-go theorem that rules out spontaneously breaking of time translation, in the ground state or in the canonical ensemble of a general Hamiltonian.

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