Systems of strongly interacting atoms and photons, which can be realized wiring up individual cavity QED systems into lattices, are perceived as a new platform for quantum simulation. While sharing important properties with other systems of interacting quantum particles, here we argue that the nature of light-matter interaction gives rise to unique features with no analogs in condensed matter or atomic physics setups. By discussing the physics of a lattice model of delocalized photons coupled locally with two-level systems through the elementary light-matter interaction described by the Rabi model, we argue that the inclusion of counterrotating terms, so far neglected, is crucial to stabilize finite-density quantum phases of correlated photons out of the vacuum, with no need for an artificially engineered chemical potential. We show that the competition between photon delocalization and Rabi nonlinearity drives the system across a novel Z 2 parity symmetry-breaking quantum criticality between two gapped phases that share similarities with the Dicke transition of quantum optics and the Ising critical point of quantum magnetism. We discuss the phase diagram as well as the low-energy excitation spectrum and present analytic estimates for critical quantities.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physics and Astronomy(all)