We revisit the problem of the plateau transition in the integer quantum Hall effect. Here we develop an analytical approach for this transition, and for other two-dimensional disordered systems, based on the theory of "conformal restriction." This is a mathematical theory that was recently developed within the context of the Schramm-Loewner evolution which describes the "stochastic geometry" of fractal curves and other stochastic geometrical fractal objects in two-dimensional space. Observables elucidating the connection with the plateau transition include the so-called point-contact conductances (PCCs) between points on the boundary of the sample, described within the language of the Chalker-Coddington network model for the transition. We show that the disorder-averaged PCCs are characterized by a classical probability distribution for certain geometric objects in the plane (which we call pictures), occurring with positive statistical weights, that satisfy the crucial so-called restriction property with respect to changes in the shape of the sample with absorbing boundaries; physically, these are boundaries connected to ideal leads. At the transition point, these geometrical objects (pictures) become fractals. Upon combining this restriction property with the expected conformal invariance at the transition point, we employ the mathematical theory of "conformal restriction measures" to relate the disorder-averaged PCCs to correlation functions of (Virasoro) primary operators in a conformal field theory (of central charge c=0). We show how this can be used to calculate these functions in a number of geometries with various boundary conditions. Since our results employ only the conformal restriction property, they are equally applicable to a number of other critical disordered electronic systems in two spatial dimensions, including for example the spin quantum Hall effect, the thermal metal phase in symmetry class D, and classical diffusion in two dimensions in a perpendicular magnetic field. For most of these systems, we also predict exact values of critical exponents related to the spatial behavior of various disorder-averaged PCCs.
|Physical Review B - Condensed Matter and Materials Physics
|Published - 25 Oct 2012