The spectral gap - the energy difference between the ground state and first excited state - is central to quantum many-body physics. Many challenging open problems, such as the Haldane conjecture, existence of gapped topological spin liquid phases, or the Yang-Mills gap conjecture, concern spectral gaps. These and other problems are particular cases of the general spectral gap problem: given a quantum many-body Hamiltonian, is it gapped or gapless? Here we prove that this is an undecidable problem. We construct families of quantum spin systems on a 2D lattice with translationally-invariant, nearest-neighbour interactions for which the spectral gap problem is undecidable. This result extends to undecidability of other low energy properties, such as existence of algebraically decaying ground-state correlations. The proof combines Hamiltonian complexity techniques with aperiodic tilings, to construct a Hamiltonian whose ground state encodes the evolution of a quantum phase-estimation algorithm followed by a universal Turing Machine. The spectral gap depends on the outcome of the corresponding Halting Problem. Our result implies that there exists no algorithm to determine whether an arbitrary model is gapped or gapless. It also implies that there exist models for which the presence or absence of a spectral gap is independent of the axioms of mathematics.
- Pub Date:
- February 2015
- Quantum Physics;
- Condensed Matter - Other Condensed Matter;
- High Energy Physics - Theory;
- Mathematical Physics
- v2: published version. 7 pages, 3 figures. See long companion paper arXiv:1502.04573 (same title and authors) for full technical details. v3: Added supplementary material as ancilliary file (previously part of arXiv:1502.04573v2)