Nav: Home

A quantum magnet with a topological twist

February 22, 2019

Taking their name from an intricate Japanese basket pattern, kagome magnets are thought to have electronic properties that could be valuable for future quantum devices and applications. Theories predict that some electrons in these materials have exotic, so-called topological behaviors and others behave somewhat like graphene, another material prized for its potential for new types of electronics.

Now, an international team led by researchers at Princeton University has observed that some of the electrons in these magnets behave collectively, like an almost infinitely massive electron that is strangely magnetic, rather than like individual particles. The study was published in the journal Nature Physics this week.

The team also showed that placing the kagome magnet in a high magnetic field causes the direction of magnetism to reverse. This "negative magnetism" is akin to having a compass that points south instead of north, or a refrigerator magnet that suddenly refuses to stick.

"We have been searching for super-massive 'flat-band' electrons that can still conduct electricity for a long time, and finally we have found them," said M. Zahid Hasan, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics at Princeton University, who led the team. "In this system, we also found that due to an internal quantum phase effect, some electrons line up opposite to the magnetic field, producing negative magnetism."

The team explored how atoms arranged in a kagome pattern in a crystal give rise to strange electronic properties that can have real-world benefits, such as superconductivity, which allows electricity to flow without loss as heat, or magnetism that can be controlled at the quantum level for use in future electronics.

The researchers used state-of-the-art scanning tunneling microscopy and spectroscopy (STM/S) to look at the behavior of electrons in a kagome-patterned crystal made from cobalt and tin, sandwiched between two layers of sulfur atoms, which are further sandwiched between two layers of tin.

In the kagome layer, the cobalt atoms form triangles around a hexagon with a tin atom in the center. This geometry forces the electrons into some uncomfortable positions - leading this type of material to be called a "frustrated magnet."

To explore the electron behavior in this structure, the researchers nicked the top layers to reveal the kagome layer beneath.

They then used the STM/S technique to detect each electron's energy profile, or band structure. The band structure describes the range of energies an electron can have within a crystal, and explains, for example, why some materials conduct electricity and others are insulators. The researchers found that some of electrons in the kagome layer have a band structure that, rather than being curved as in most materials, is flat.

A flat band structure indicates that the electrons have an effective mass that is so large as to be almost infinite. In such a state, the particles act collectively rather than as individual particles.

Theories have long predicted that the kagome pattern would create a flat band structure, but this study is the first experimental detection of a flat band electron in such a system.

One of the general predictions that follows is that a material with a flat band may exhibit negative magnetism.

Indeed, in the current study, when the researchers applied a strong magnetic field, some of the kagome magnet's electrons pointed in the opposite direction.

"Whether the field was applied up or down, the electrons' energy flipped in the same direction, that was the first thing that was strange in terms of the experiments," said Songtian Sonia Zhang, a graduate student in physics and one of three co-first-authors on the paper.

"That puzzled us for about three months," said Jia-Xin Yin, a postdoctoral research associate and another co-first author on the study. "We were searching for the reason, and with our collaborators we realized that this was the first experimental evidence that this flat band peak in the kagome lattice has a negative magnetic moment."

The researchers found that the negative magnetism arises due to the relationship between the kagome flat band, a quantum phenomenon called spin-orbit coupling, magnetism and a quantum factor called the Berry curvature field. Spin-orbit coupling refers to a situation where an electron's spin, which itself is a quantum property of electrons, becomes linked to the electron's orbital rotation. The combination of spin-orbital coupling and the magnetic nature of the material leads all the electrons to behave in lock step, like a giant single particle.

Another intriguing behavior that arises from the tightly coupled spin-orbit interactions is the emergence of topological behaviors. The subject of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics, topological materials can have electrons that flow without resistance on their surfaces and are an active area of research. The cobalt-tin-sulfur material is an example of a topological system.

Two-dimensional patterned lattices can have other desirable types of electron conductance. For example, graphene is a pattern of carbon atoms that has generated considerable interest for its electronic applications over the past two decades. The kagome lattice's band structure gives rise to electrons that behave similarly to those in graphene.
-end-
Funding for this study was provided the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the United States Department of Energy under the Basic Energy Sciences program, the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science and the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials Imaging and Analysis Center at Princeton University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, "Negative flatband magnetism in a spin-orbit coupled correlated kagome magnet," by Jia-Xin Yin, Songtian S. Zhang, Guoqing Chang, Qi Wang, Stepan S. Tsirkin, Zurab Guguchia, Biao Lian, Huibin Zhou, Kun Jiang, Ilya Belopolski, Nana Shumiya, Daniel Multer, Maksim Litskevich, Tyler A. Cochran, Hsin Lin, Ziqiang Wang, Titus Neupert, Shuang Jia, Hechang Lei and M. Zahid Hasan, was published online Feb. 18, 2019 in the journal Nature Physics.

Princeton University

Related Magnetic Field Articles:

Massive photons in an artificial magnetic field
An international research collaboration from Poland, the UK and Russia has created a two-dimensional system -- a thin optical cavity filled with liquid crystal -- in which they trapped photons.
Adhesive which debonds in magnetic field could reduce landfill waste
Researchers at the University of Sussex have developed a glue which can unstick when placed in a magnetic field, meaning products otherwise destined for landfill, could now be dismantled and recycled at the end of their life.
Earth's last magnetic field reversal took far longer than once thought
Every several hundred thousand years or so, Earth's magnetic field dramatically shifts and reverses its polarity.
A new rare metals alloy can change shape in the magnetic field
Scientists developed multifunctional metal alloys that emit and absorb heat at the same time and change their size and volume under the influence of a magnetic field.
Physicists studied the influence of magnetic field on thin film structures
A team of scientists from Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University together with their colleagues from Russia, Japan, and Australia studied the influence of inhomogeneity of magnetic field applied during the fabrication process of thin-film structures made from nickel-iron and iridium-manganese alloys, on their properties.
'Magnetic topological insulator' makes its own magnetic field
A team of U.S. and Korean physicists has found the first evidence of a two-dimensional material that can become a magnetic topological insulator even when it is not placed in a magnetic field.
Scientists develop a new way to remotely measure Earth's magnetic field
By zapping a layer of meteor residue in the atmosphere with ground-based lasers, scientists in the US, Canada and Europe get a new view of Earth's magnetic field.
Magnetic field milestone
Physicists from the Institute for Solid State Physics at the University of Tokyo have generated the strongest controllable magnetic field ever produced.
New world record magnetic field
Scientists at the University of Tokyo have recorded the largest magnetic field ever generated indoors -- a whopping 1,200 tesla, as measured in the standard units of magnetic field strength.
Researchers discover link between magnetic field strength and temperature
Researchers recently discovered that the strength of the magnetic field required to elicit a particular quantum mechanical process corresponds to the temperature of the material.
More Magnetic Field News and Magnetic Field Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#542 Climate Doomsday
Have you heard? Climate change. We did it. And it's bad. It's going to be worse. We are already suffering the effects of it in many ways. How should we TALK about the dangers we are facing, though? Should we get people good and scared? Or give them hope? Or both? Host Bethany Brookshire talks with David Wallace-Wells and Sheril Kirschenbaum to find out. This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News. Related links: Why Climate Disasters Might Not Boost Public Engagement on Climate Change on The New York Times by Andrew Revkin The other kind...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab