Observation of a nematic quantum Hall liquid on the surface of bismuth

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Science  21 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6310, pp. 316-321
DOI: 10.1126/science.aag1715

Relating interactions and nematicity

The electronic system in a strongly correlated material can sometimes be less symmetrical than the underlying crystal lattice. This loss of symmetry, caused by interactions and dubbed electronic nematicity, has been observed in a number of exotic materials. However, establishing a direct connection between the interactions and nematicity is tricky. Feldman et al. used scanning tunneling microscopy to image the wave functions of electrons on the surface of bismuth placed in an external magnetic field. The exchange interactions in the material caused a loss of symmetry, which was reflected in the orientations of the electrons' elliptical orbits.

Science, this issue p. 316


Nematic quantum fluids with wave functions that break the underlying crystalline symmetry can form in interacting electronic systems. We examined the quantum Hall states that arise in high magnetic fields from anisotropic hole pockets on the Bi(111) surface. Spectroscopy performed with a scanning tunneling microscope showed that a combination of single-particle effects and many-body Coulomb interactions lift the six-fold Landau level (LL) degeneracy to form three valley-polarized quantum Hall states. We imaged the resulting anisotropic LL wave functions and found that they have a different orientation for each broken-symmetry state. The wave functions correspond to those expected from pairs of hole valleys and provide a direct spatial signature of a nematic electronic phase.

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