Phase separation and magnetic order in K-doped iron selenide superconductor

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The newly discovered alkali-doped iron selenide superconductors1,2 not only reach a superconducting transition temperature as high as 32 K, but also exhibit unique characteristics that are absent from other iron-based superconductors, such as antiferromagnetically ordered insulating phases3,4, extremely high Néel transition temperatures5,6 and the presence of Fe vacancies and ordering7,8,9,10. These features have generated considerable excitement as well as confusion, regarding the delicate interplay between Fe vacancies, magnetism and superconductivity11,12,13. Here we report on molecular beam epitaxy growth of high-quality KxFe2−ySe2 thin films and in situ low-temperature scanning tunnelling microscope measurement of their atomic and electronic structures. We demonstrate that a KxFe2−ySe2 sample contains two distinct phases: an insulating phase with well-defined order of Fe vacancies, and a superconducting KFe2Se2 phase containing no Fe vacancies. An individual Fe vacancy can locally destroy superconductivity in a similar way to a magnetic impurity in conventional superconductors. Measurement of the magnetic-field dependence of the Fe-vacancy-induced bound states reveals a magnetically related bipartite order in the tetragonal iron lattice. These findings elucidate the existing controversies on this new superconductor and provide atomistic information on the interplay between magnetism and superconductivity in iron-based superconductors.

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Figure 1: MBE film and the superconducting phase of KxFe2−ySe2.
Figure 2: The insulating phase.
Figure 3: Fe-vacancy-induced bound states in the superconducting gap of KFe2Se2.
Figure 4: Suppression of superconductivity of KFe2Se2 by Fe vacancies.


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We thank Y. G. Zhao for discussions. The work was financially supported by the National Science Foundation and Ministry of Science and Technology of China.

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W.L., H.D., P.D., K.C. and C.S. carried out the experiments; K.H., L.W., X.M. and J-P.H. analysed the data; X.C. and Q-K.X. designed and coordinated the experiments; X.C. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Correspondence to Xi Chen or Qi-Kun Xue.

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