Quantum spin-ice and dimer models with Rydberg atoms

Quantum spin-ice represents a paradigmatic example of how the physics of frustrated magnets is related to gauge theories. In the present work, we address the problem of approximately realizing quantum spin ice in two dimensions with cold atoms in optical lattices. The relevant interactions are obtained by weakly laser-admixing Rydberg states to the atomic ground-states, exploiting the strong angular dependence of van der Waals interactions between Rydberg p states together with the possibility of designing steplike potentials. This allows us to implement Abelian gauge theories in a series of geometries, which could be demonstrated within state-of-the-art atomic Rydberg experiments. We numerically analyze the family of resulting microscopic Hamiltonians and find that they exhibit both classical and quantum order by disorder, the latter yielding a quantum plaquette valence bond solid. We also present strategies to implement Abelian gauge theories using both s- and p-Rydberg states in exotic geometries, e.g., on a 4-8 lattice.