Phase-Sensitive Observation of a Spin-Orbital Mott State in Sr2IrO4

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Science  06 Mar 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5919, pp. 1329-1332
DOI: 10.1126/science.1167106

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Measurement of the quantum-mechanical phase in quantum matter provides the most direct manifestation of the underlying abstract physics. We used resonant x-ray scattering to probe the relative phases of constituent atomic orbitals in an electronic wave function, which uncovers the unconventional Mott insulating state induced by relativistic spin-orbit coupling in the layered 5d transition metal oxide Sr2IrO4. A selection rule based on intra-atomic interference effects establishes a complex spin-orbital state represented by an effective total angular momentum = 1/2 quantum number, the phase of which can lead to a quantum topological state of matter.

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