MathOverflow is a question and answer site for professional mathematicians. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The following situation is ubiquitous in mathematical physics. Let $\Lambda_N$ be a finite-size lattice with linear size $N$. An typical example would be the subset of $\mathbb{Z}\times\mathbb{Z}$ given by those pairs of integers $(j,k)$ such that $j,k \in$ { $0,\ldots,N-1$}. On each vertex $j$ of the lattice place a copy of the vector space $\mathbb{C}^d$. The total space will be the tensor product of all of these spaces. Then define a Hamiltonian acting on this total space as follows: $$ H = \sum_{k \in \Lambda_N} h_k$$ for some Hermitian matrices $h_k$ which act like the identity everywhere except on the vector spaces located on site $k$ and in the neighborhood surrounding $k$. Typically, one is interested in the case where there is a translational symmetry (except at the boundary) in the definition of the $h_k$. Denote the eigenvalues of $H$ in increasing order by $\lambda_1 \le \lambda_2 \le \ldots \le \lambda_M$.

For an arbitrary fixed family of Hamiltonians $H$, what proof techniques exist for computing an upper and a lower bound on $\Delta = \lambda_2 - \lambda_1$ as a function of $N$? In particular, we want to know if $\Delta$ decays to zero as a function of $N$, or if it is lower-bounded by some constant independent of $N$.

The gap $\Delta$ is the energy gap between the ground state and the first excited state of an interacting quantum system. Understanding this quantity tremendously impacts our understanding of the different phases of matter, but it is extremely difficult to compute or even bound for all but the simplest cases (like when all the $h_k$ commute). This difficulty persists even when there is significant additional (physically motivated) structure in the problem, such as considering only $h_k$ which are projectors, and where there is a unique zero-energy eigenstate (all others having positive energy for any finite $N$).

More general formulations of this question also have applications to expansion properties of graphs, mixing times of Markov chains, and many other things. I’m happy to hear answers related to these as well, but I’m hoping to find answers that are useful for the structure of local Hamiltonians, as defined above.

share|cite|improve this question

Bounding angles in projector-valued Hamiltonians

Suppose that each of the $h_k$ are projectors, and suppose that we shift the total energy so that $\lambda_1 = 0$. Further suppose that this eigenspace is known to be non-degenerate for every finite $N$. Then one proof technique that sometimes works (at least in one dimension, but it can be generalized) to prove an $N$-independent lower bound is the following, which to the best of my knowledge was first discussed in

M. Fannes, B. Nachtergaele, R. F. Werner, Finitely correlated states on quantum spin chains, Comm. Math. Phys. Vol. 144, Num. 3 (1992), 443-490. MathSciNet:MR1158756

The bound is as follows. Let $\theta_{j,k}$ be the smallest non-zero angle between the pair of projectors $h_j$ and $h_k$. That is, $\cos^2(\theta_{j,k})$ is the largest eigenvalue not equal to one of $h_j h_k h_j$. Define $\theta = \min_{j,k} \theta_{j,k}$. Then FNW show that $$ \Delta \ge 1-2 \cos(\theta) .$$ As long as $\cos(\theta)$ is less than 1/2, there is an $N$-independent lower bound on $\Delta$, since this involves only local information. The proof proceeds by squaring $H$ and then bounding how negative the anti-commutators can be by using this angle $\theta$.

share|cite|improve this answer

This is off-topic: But powerful techniques to show that gap exist, can be found in the following papers:

of course. The setting is somewhat different, since they consider discrete Schroedinger operators ...

share|cite|improve this answer

For VBS quantum antiferromagnets in one dimension see also :

Ian Affleck, Tom Kennedy, Elliott H. Lieb and Hal Tasaki, Valence bond ground states in isotropic quantum antiferromagnets. Comm. Math. Phys., Volume 115, Number 3 (1988)


Stefan Knabe, Energy gaps and elementary excitations for certain VBS-quantum antiferromagnets, Journal of Statistical Physics Volume 52, Numbers 3-4, 1988

share|cite|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.