Abstract: Thermalization is a ubiquitous process of statistical physics, in which details of few-body observables are washed out in favor of a featureless steady state. Even in isolated quantum many-body systems, limited to reversible dynamics, thermalization typically prevails. However, in these systems, there is another possibility: many-body localization (MBL) can result in preservation of a non-thermal state. While disorder has long been considered an essential ingredient for this phenomenon, recent theoretical work has suggested that a quantum many-body system with a uniformly increasing field -- but no disorder -- can also exhibit MBL, resulting in `Stark MBL.' Here we realize Stark MBL in a trapped-ion quantum simulator and demonstrate its key properties: halting of thermalization and slow propagation of correlations. Tailoring the interactions between ionic spins in an effective field gradient, we directly observe their microscopic equilibration for a variety of initial states, and we apply single-site control to measure correlations between separate regions of the spin chain. Further, by engineering a varying gradient, we create a disorder-free system with coexisting long-lived thermalized and nonthermal regions. The results demonstrate the unexpected generality of MBL, with implications about the fundamental requirements for thermalization and with potential uses in engineering long-lived non-equilibrium quantum matter.
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