In the presence of disorder, an interacting closed quantum system can undergo many-body localization (MBL) and fail to thermalize. However, over long times, even weak couplings to any thermal environment will necessarily thermalize the system and erase all signatures of MBL. This presents a challenge for experimental investigations of MBL since no realistic system can ever be fully closed. In this work, we experimentally explore the thermalization dynamics of a localized system in the presence of controlled dissipation. Specifically, we find that photon scattering results in a stretched exponential decay of an initial density pattern with a rate that depends linearly on the scattering rate. We find that the resulting susceptibility increases significantly close to the phase transition point. In this regime, which is inaccessible to current numerical studies, we also find a strong dependence on interactions. Our work provides a basis for systematic studies of MBL in open systems and opens a route towards extrapolation of closed-system properties from experiments.
- atomic and molecular physics
- condensed matter physics