We prove that the observable telegraph signal accompanying the bistability in the photon-blockade-breakdown regime of the driven and lossy Jaynes–Cummings model is the finite-size precursor of what in the thermodynamic limit is a genuine first-order phase transition. We construct a finite-size scaling of the system parameters to a well-defined thermodynamic limit, in which the system remains the same microscopic system, but the telegraph signal becomes macroscopic both in its timescale and intensity. The existence of such a finite-size scaling completes and justifies the classification of the photon-blockade-breakdown effect as a first-order dissipative quantum phase transition.
Bistability in certain small quantum systems has been identified as signature of first order quantum phase transitions, however, this identification is problematic: a randomly switching telegraph signal between two well-resolved attractors can also be observed in quantum dynamics distinct from phase transitions. For example, the famous electron-shelving scheme – used in atomic clocks or for qubit measurement in ion-trap quantum computers – produces a similar signal without any connection to phase transitions.
There is a missing element to support the interpretation of bistability as a first-order quantum phase transition: it must be shown that bistability is only a finite-size effect, and there exists an idealized thermodynamic limit, where temporal bistability is replaced by hysteresis. This idealized thermodynamic limit can be introduced such that the physical system remains a small quantum system with a few degrees of freedom, that is, the passage to the thermodynamic limit does not involve a quantum-to-classical transition. In this paper, we present a prototype of this procedure by constructing a finite-size scaling for the recently-observed photon-blockade-breakdown effect to justify its classification as a first-order dissipative quantum phase transition.
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