Nonequilibrium transition between a continuous and a discrete time-crystal

Cabot, Albert; Giorgi, Gian Luca; Zambrini, Roberta
Submitted (2024)

We show a dissipative phase transition in a driven nonlinear quantum oscillator in which a discrete time-translation symmetry is broken either continuously or discretely. The corresponding regimes display either continuous or discrete time crystals, which we analyze numerically and analytically beyond the classical limit addressing observable dynamics, Liouvillian spectral features, and quantum fluctuations. Via an effective semiclassical description, we show that phase diffusion dominates when the symmetry is broken continuously, which manifests as a band of eigenmodes with a lifetime growing linearly with the mean-field excitation number. Instead, in the discrete symmetry broken phase, the leading fluctuation process corresponds to quantum activation with a single mode that has an exponentially growing lifetime. Interestingly, the transition between these two regimes manifests itself already in the quantum regime as a spectral singularity, namely as an exceptional point mediating between phase diffusion and quantum activation. Finally, we discuss this transition between different time-crystal orders in the context of synchronization phenomena.

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