The symmetry of the wavefunction describing the Cooper pairs is one of the most fundamental quantities in a superconductor, but for iron-based superconductors it has proved to be problematic to determine, owing to their complex multi-band nature1, 2, 3. Here we use a first-principles many-body method, including the two-particle vertex function, to study the spin dynamics and the superconducting pairing symmetry of a large number of iron-based compounds. Our results show that these high-temperature superconductors have both dispersive high-energy and strong low-energy commensurate or nearly commensurate spin excitations, which play a dominant role in Cooper pairing. We find three closely competing types of pairing symmetries, which take a very simple form in the space of active iron 3d orbitals, and differ only in the relative quantum mechanical phase of the xz, yz and xy orbital components of the Cooper pair wavefunction. The extensively discussed s+− symmetry appears when contributions from all orbitals have equal sign, whereas a novel orbital-antiphase s+− symmetry emerges when the xy orbital has an opposite sign to the xz and yz orbitals. This orbital-antiphase pairing symmetry agrees well with the angular variation of the superconducting gaps in LiFeAs (refs 4, 5).
At a glance
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