Quantum phase transition between two ground states with the same symmetry but of different universality class – gapless at q < qc and fully gapped at q > qc – as isolated point (a) as the termination point of first order transition (b)
There are two schemes for the classification of states in condensed matter physics and relativistic quantum fields: classification by symmetry (GUT scheme) and by momentum space topology (anti-GUT scheme).
For the first classification method, a given state of the system is characterized by a symmetry group H which is a subgroup of the symmetry group G of the relevant physical laws. The thermodynamic phase transition between equilibrium states is usually marked by a change of the symmetry group H. This classification reflects the phenomenon of spontaneously broken symmetry. In relativistic quantum fields the chain of successive phase transitions, in which the large symmetry group existing at high energy is reduced at low energy, is in the basis of the Grand Unification models (GUT). In condensed matter the spontaneous symmetry breaking is a typical phenomenon, and the thermodynamic states are also classified in terms of the subgroup H of the relevant group G. The groups G and H are also responsible for topological defects, which are determined by the nontrivial elements of the homotopy groups πn(G/H).
The second classification method reflects the opposite tendency – the anti Grand Unification (anti-GUT) – when instead of the symmetry breaking the symmetry gradually emerges at low energy. This method deals with the ground states of the system at zero temperature (T = 0), i.e., it is the classification of quantum vacua. The universality classes of quantum vacua are determined by momentum-space topology, which is also responsible for the type of the effective theory, emergent physical laws and symmetries at low energy. Contrary to the GUT scheme, where the symmetry of the vacuum state is primary giving rise to topology, in the anti-GUT scheme the topology in the momentum space is primary while the vacuum symmetry is the emergent phenomenon in the low energy corner.
At the moment, we live in the ultra-cold Universe. All the characteristic temperatures in our Universe are extremely small compared to the Planck energy scale EP. That is why all the massive fermions, whose natural mass must be of order EP, are frozen out due to extremely small factor exp(−EP/T). There is no matter in our Universe unless there are massless fermions, whose masslessness is protected with extremely high accuracy. It is the topology in the momentum space, which provides such protection.
For systems living in 3D space, there are four basic universality classes of fermionic vacua provided by topology in momentum space:
(i) Vacua with fully-gapped fermionic excitations, such as semiconductors and conventional superconductors.
(ii) Vacua with fermionic excitations characterized by Fermi points – points in 3D momentum space at which the energy of fermionic quasiparticle vanishes. Examples are provided by the quantum vacuum of Standard Model above the electroweak transition, where all elementary particles are Weyl fermions with Fermi points in the spectrum. This universality class manifests the phenomenon of emergent relativistic quantum fields at low energy: close to the Fermi points the fermionic quasiparticles behave as massless Weyl fermions, while the collective modes of the vacuum interact with these fermions as gauge and gravitational fields.
(iii) Vacua with fermionic excitations characterized by lines in 3D momentum space or points in 2D momentum space. We call them Fermi lines, though in general it is better to characterize zeroes by co-dimension, which is the dimension of p-space minus the dimension of the manifold of zeros. Lines in 3D momentum space and points in 2D momentum space have co-dimension 2: since 3−1 = 2−0 = 2. The Fermi lines are topologically stable only if some special symmetry is obeyed.
(iv) Vacua with fermionic excitations characterized by Fermi surfaces. This universality class also manifests the phenomenon of emergent physics, though non-relativistic: at low temperature all the metals behave in a similar way, and this behavior is determined by the Landau theory of Fermi liquid – the effective theory based on the existence of Fermi surface. Fermi surface has co-dimension 1: in 3D system it is the surface (co-dimension = 3 − 2 = 1), in 2D system it is the line (co- dimension = 2 − 1 = 1), and in 1D system it is the point (co-dimension = 1 − 0 = 1; in one dimensional system the Landau Fermi-liquid theory does not work, but the Fermi surface survives).
The possibility of the Fermi band class (v), where the energy vanishes in the finite region of the 3D momentum space and thus zeroes have co-dimension 0, and such topologically stable flat band may exist in the spectrum of fermion zero modes, i.e. for fermions localized in the core of the topological objects. The phase transitions which follow from this classification scheme are quantum phase transitions which occur at T = 0. It may happen that by changing some parameter q of the system we transfer the vacuum state from one universality class to another, or to the vacuum of the same universality class but different topological quantum number, without changing its symmetry group H. The point qc, where this zero-temperature transition occurs, marks the quantum phase transition. For T ≠ 0, the second order phase transition is absent, as the two states belong to the same symmetry class H, but the first order phase transition is not excluded. Hence, there is an isolated singular point (qc, 0) in the (q, T) plane, or the end point of the first order transition. The quantum phase transitions which occur in classes (iv) and (i) or be- tween these classes are well known. In the class (iv) the corresponding quantum phase transition is known as Lifshitz transition, at which the Fermi surface changes its topology or emerges from the fully gapped state of class (i). The transition between the fully gapped states characterized by different topological charges occurs in 2D systems exhibiting the quantum Hall and spin-Hall effect: this is the plateau-plateau transition between the states with different values of the Hall (or spin-Hall) conductance. The less known transitions involve nodes of co-dimension 3 and nodes of co-dimension 2.