Letter | Published:

Electronic in-plane symmetry breaking at field-tuned quantum criticality in CeRhIn5

Nature volume 548, pages 313317 (17 August 2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Electronic nematic materials are characterized by a lowered symmetry of the electronic system compared to the underlying lattice, in analogy to the directional alignment without translational order in nematic liquid crystals1. Such nematic phases appear in the copper- and iron-based high-temperature superconductors2,3,4, and their role in establishing superconductivity remains an open question. Nematicity may take an active part, cooperating or competing with superconductivity, or may appear accidentally in such systems. Here we present experimental evidence for a phase of fluctuating nematic character in a heavy-fermion superconductor, CeRhIn5 (ref. 5). We observe a magnetic-field-induced state in the vicinity of a field-tuned antiferromagnetic quantum critical point at Hc ≈ 50 tesla. This phase appears above an out-of-plane critical field H* ≈ 28 tesla and is characterized by a substantial in-plane resistivity anisotropy in the presence of a small in-plane field component. The in-plane symmetry breaking has little apparent connection to the underlying lattice, as evidenced by the small magnitude of the magnetostriction anomaly at H*. Furthermore, no anomalies appear in the magnetic torque, suggesting the absence of metamagnetism in this field range. The appearance of nematic behaviour in a prototypical heavy-fermion superconductor highlights the interrelation of nematicity and unconventional superconductivity, suggesting nematicity to be common among correlated materials.

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Acknowledgements

We thank A. Mackenzie, B. Batlogg, S. Kivelson, E. Fradkin, C. Geibel and J. Thompson for discussions. We also thank B. Zeng for supporting the torque measurements. L.B. is supported by DOE-BES through award DE-SC0002613. The project was supported by the Max Planck Society and funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) — MO 3077/1-1. Work at Los Alamos National Laboratory was performed under the auspices of the US Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering. Work at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory was supported by National Science Foundation Cooperative Agreement no. DMR-1157490, the State of Florida, and the US DOE. M.J. acknowledges support from the IMS Rapid Response program at LANL. M.K.C. was supported by funds from US DOE BES ‘Science at 100T’.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87545, USA

    • F. Ronning
    •  & E. D. Bauer
  2. Max-Planck-Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids, 01187 Dresden, Germany

    • T. Helm
    • , K. R. Shirer
    • , M. D. Bachmann
    •  & P. J. W. Moll
  3. National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32310, USA

    • L. Balicas
  4. National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, LANL, MS E536, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87545, USA

    • M. K. Chan
    • , B. J. Ramshaw
    • , R. D. McDonald
    • , F. F. Balakirev
    •  & M. Jaime
  5. Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics, Cornell University, 142 Sciences Drive, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA

    • B. J. Ramshaw
  6. Institute for Materials Science, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87545, USA

    • M. Jaime

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Contributions

P.J.W.M. and F.R. designed the experiment. P.J.W.M., K.R.S., T.H. and M.D.B. fabricated the microstructured devices. P.J.W.M., T.H., M.K.C., B.J.R., R.D.M. and F.F.B. performed the pulsed field experiments and P.J.W.M., K.R.S. and L.B. the dc-field experiments. E.D.B. and F.R. grew the crystals. M.J. performed the magnetostriction measurements and their analysis. All authors contributed to the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to P. J. W. Moll.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature23315

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