The best topological conductor yet: spiraling crystal is the key to exotic discovery

X-ray research at Berkeley Lab reveals samples are a new state of matter

The realization of so-called topological materials – which exhibit exotic, defect-resistant properties and are expected to have applications in electronics, optics, quantum computing, and other fields – has opened up a new realm in materials discovery.
Several of the hotly studied topological materials to date are known as topological insulators. Their surfaces are expected to conduct electricity with very little resistance, somewhat akin to superconductors but without the need for incredibly chilly temperatures, while their interiors – the so-called “bulk” of the material – do not conduct current.
Now, a team of researchers working at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has discovered the strongest topological conductor yet, in the form of thin crystal samples that have a spiral-staircase structure. The team’s study of crystals, dubbed topological chiral crystals, is reported in the March 20 edition of the journal Nature.

>Read more on the ALS at Berkeley Lab website

Image: This illustration shows a repeated 2D patterning of a property related to electrical conductivity, known as the surface Fermi arc, in rhodium-silicon crystal samples.
Credit: Hasan Lab/Princeton University

Tuning magnetic frustration in a dipolar trident lattice

Frustrated interactions are key to a wide range of phenomena, from protein folding and magnetic memory to fundamental studies of emergent exotic states.

Geometrical frustration and “spin ice”

When bar magnets are brought together, opposite poles will attract and like poles will repel, and the magnets will arrange themselves accordingly, to minimize energy. However, if the magnets are constrained to a lattice structure where each one has just two possible orientations, some magnets could end up geometrically “frustrated,” with neither orientation being lower in energy than the other. The system becomes what’s known as a “spin ice,” analogous to water ice, which retains intrinsic randomness (residual entropy) even at absolute zero.

Systems incorporating geometrical frustration are fascinating because their hard-to-predict behavior is key to a wide range of phenomena, from protein folding and magnetic memory to the emergence of exotic states of matter. For example, the emergence of magnetic monopole–like excitations in spin ice raises the intriguing possibility of “magnetic-charge” circuitry based on currents of magnetic monopole excitations.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: (extract, entire image here) Magnetic scattering patterns calculated from XMCD data for various lattice parameters. While relatively sharp peaks indicative of long-range order are seen in (a) and (c), the diffuse patterns in (b) indicate highly disordered configurations.

 

Observation and Control of Laser-Enabled Auger Decay

When isolated atoms are electronically excited, they have two possible ways of releasing electronic energy: by radiation or by Auger decay. The Auger process, in which the decaying electron transfers its energy to another electron causing it to detach (ionization), has played an important part in modern physics, particularly surface science, because it is by far the strongest decay channel for core holes of light elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. In some cases, the Auger process is energetically forbidden, because the energy being exchanged is not sufficient for ionization. In this case, new electronic mechanisms for deexcitation may be discovered that “borrow” energy from the surroundings. One of these is interatomic Coulombic decay (ICD) where the energy is “borrowed” from surrounding atoms. Another mechanism is laser enabled Auger Decay (LEAD), where the energy is “borrowed” from an ancillary laser field; up to now LEAD has been observed with low-energy photons, meaning that more than one photon must be absorbed to make the process possible.

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