Unconventional Fermi surface in an insulating state

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Science  17 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6245, pp. 287-290
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa7974

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Probing the insulating state of SmB6

When a metal is subjected to a strong magnetic field, its electrons start rearranging into new energy levels, causing its electronic properties to oscillate as a function of the field. Unexpectedly, Tan et al. observed this phenomenon, called quantum oscillations, in the Kondo insulator samarium hexaboride (SmB6), which does not conduct electricity. They measured the magnetic torque and detected quantum oscillations originating from the bulk of this heavy fermion compound. These oscillations had an unusual temperature dependence, which presents another puzzle to theorists seeking to understand the nature of the insulating state of SmB6.

Science, this issue p. 287


Insulators occur in more than one guise; a recent finding was a class of topological insulators, which host a conducting surface juxtaposed with an insulating bulk. Here, we report the observation of an unusual insulating state with an electrically insulating bulk that simultaneously yields bulk quantum oscillations with characteristics of an unconventional Fermi liquid. We present quantum oscillation measurements of magnetic torque in high-purity single crystals of the Kondo insulator SmB6, which reveal quantum oscillation frequencies characteristic of a large three-dimensional conduction electron Fermi surface similar to the metallic rare earth hexaborides such as PrB6 and LaB6. The quantum oscillation amplitude strongly increases at low temperatures, appearing strikingly at variance with conventional metallic behavior.

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