Defects in conformal crystals: Discrete versus continuous disclination models

QY Meng and GM Grason, PHYSICAL REVIEW E, 104, 034614 (2021).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.104.034614

We study the relationship between topological defect formation and ground-state 2D packings in a model of repulsions in external confining potentials. Specifically we consider screened 2D Coulombic repulsions, which conveniently parameterizes the effects of interaction range, but also serves as simple physical model of confined, parallel arrays of polyelectrolyte filaments or vortices in type II superconductors. The countervailing tendencies of repulsions and confinement to, respectively, spread and concentrate particle density leads to an energetic preference for nonuniform densities in the clusters. Ground states in such systems have previously been modeled as conformal crystals, which are composed of locally equitriangular packings whose local areal densities exhibit long-range gradients. Here we assess two theoretical models that connect the preference for nonuniform density to the formation of disclination defects, one of which assumes a continuum distributions of defects, while the second considers the quantized and localized nature of disclinations in hexagonal conformal crystals. Comparing both theoretical descriptions to numerical simulations of discrete particles clusters, we study the influence of interaction range and confining potential on the topological charge, number, and distribution of defects in ground states. We show that treating disclinations as continuously distributable well captures the number of topological defects in the ground state in the regime of long-range interactions, while as interactions become shorter range, it dramatically overpredicts the growth in total defect charge. Detailed analysis of the discretized defect theory suggests that that failure of the continuous defect theory in this limit can be attributed to the asymmetry in the preferred placement of positive vs negative disclinations in the conformal crystal ground states, as well as a strongly asymmetric dependence of self-energy of disclinations on sign of topological charge.

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