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Continuous Excitations of the Triangular-Lattice Quantum Spin Liquid YbMgGaO4


Fernando Assis Garcia

Tuesday, March. 29, 2017

A quantum spin liquid (QSL) is an exotic state of matter in which electrons’ spins are quantum entangled over long distances, but do not show magnetic order in the zero-temperature limit1. The observation of QSL states is a central aim of experimental physics, because they host collective excitations that transcend our knowledge of quantum matter; however, examples in real materials are scarce2. Here, we report neutron-scattering experiments on YbMgGaO4, a QSL candidate in which Yb3+ ions with effective spin-1/2 occupy a triangular lattice3456. Our measurements reveal a continuum of magnetic excitations—the essential experimental hallmark of a QSL7—at very low temperature (0.06 K). The origin of this peculiar excitation spectrum is a crucial question, because isotropic nearest-neighbour interactions do not yield a QSL ground state on the triangular lattice8. Using measurements in the field-polarized state, we identify antiferromagnetic next-nearest-neighbour interactions9101112, spin-space anisotropies4101314, and chemical disorder15 between the magnetic layers as key ingredients in YbMgGaO4.

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