Probing the holographic dilaton


Many strongly coupled field theories admit a spectrum of gauge-invariant bound states that includes scalar particles with the same quantum numbers as the vacuum. The challenge naturally arises of how to characterise them. In particular, how can a dilaton — the pseudo-Nambu-Goldstone boson associated with approximate scale invariance — be distinguished from other generic light scalars with the same quantum numbers? We address this problem within the context of gauge-gravity dualities, by analysing the fluctuations of the higher-dimensional gravitational theory. The diagnostic test that we propose consists of comparing the results of the complete calculation, performed by using gauge-invariant fluctuations in the bulk, with the results obtained in the probe approximation. While the former captures the mixing between scalar and metric degrees of freedom, the latter removes by hand the fluctuations that source the dilatation operator of the boundary field- theory. Hence, the probe approximation cannot capture a possible light dilaton, while it should fare well for other scalar particles. We test this idea on a number of holographic models, among which are some of the best known, complete gravity backgrounds constructed within the top-down approach to gauge-gravity dualities. We compute the spectra of scalar and tensor fluctuations, that are interpreted as bound states (glueballs) of the dual field theory, and we highlight those cases in which the probe approximation yields results close to the correct physical ones, as well as those cases where significant discrepancies emerge. We interpret the latter occurrence as an indication that identifying one of the lightest scalar states with the dilaton is legitimate, at least as a leading-order approximation.

A preprint version of the article is available at ArXiv.


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Elander, D., Piai, M. & Roughley, J. Probing the holographic dilaton. J. High Energ. Phys. 2020, 177 (2020).

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  • AdS-CFT Correspondence
  • Gauge-gravity correspondence