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Tunable emergent heterostructures in a prototypical correlated metal


At the interface between two distinct materials, desirable properties, such as superconductivity, can be greatly enhanced1, or entirely new functionalities may emerge2. Similar to in artificially engineered heterostructures, clean functional interfaces alternatively exist in electronically textured bulk materials. Electronic textures emerge spontaneously due to competing atomic-scale interactions3, the control of which would enable a top-down approach for designing tunable intrinsic heterostructures. This is particularly attractive for correlated electron materials, where spontaneous heterostructures strongly affect the interplay between charge and spin degrees of freedom4. Here we report high-resolution neutron spectroscopy on the prototypical strongly correlated metal CeRhIn5, revealing competition between magnetic frustration and easy-axis anisotropy—a well-established mechanism for generating spontaneous superstructures5. Because the observed easy-axis anisotropy is field-induced and anomalously large, it can be controlled efficiently with small magnetic fields. The resulting field-controlled magnetic superstructure is closely tied to the formation of superconducting6 and electronic nematic textures7 in CeRhIn5, suggesting that in situ tunable heterostructures can be realized in correlated electron materials.

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Fig. 1: Interplay of magnetic superstructures and electronic textures in heavy fermion materials.
Fig. 2: Signatures of highly-tunable modulated magnetic superstructures in CeRhIn5.
Fig. 3: Magnetic excitations of CeRhIn5 in in-plane magnetic fields.
Fig. 4: Salient parameters of the effective spin model related to ANNNI framework5 to describe the field-tuned uniaxial anisotropy in CeRhIn5.


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We acknowledge useful discussions with R. Baumbach, C. Pfleiderer, M. Garst, M. Votja, P. Böni and J. M. Lawrence. Work at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was performed under the auspices of the US Department of Energy. LANL is operated by Los Alamos National Security for the National Nuclear Security Administration of DOE under contract DE-AC52-06NA25396. Research supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering under the project ‘Complex Electronic Materials’ (material synthesis and characterization) and the LANL Directed Research and Development program (neutron scattering, development of the spin wave model, mean-field computation and development of analysis software). Research conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Spallation Neutron Source was sponsored by the Scientific User Facilities Division, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, US Department of Energy. Experiments at the ISIS Pulsed Neutron and Muon Source were supported by a beam time allocation from the Science and Technology Facilities Council. We acknowledge the support of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, US Department of Commerce, in providing the neutron research facilities used in this work.

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N.J.G., P.D. and E.D.B. synthesized the single crystal samples; J.D.T. and F.R. carried out thermal and transport measurements; D.M.F., G.E., A.P., L.W.H., R.I.B., V.H., A.S. and M.J. performed the neutron spectroscopy measurements; D.M.F. wrote the software for analysing the neutron data; DMF and MJ analyzed the neutron data; M.J. supervised the experimental work; S.Z., S.Z.L. and C.D.B. developed the theoretical model and carried out all calculations; D.M.F., S.Z.L., C.D.B. and M.J. proposed and designed this study, and D.M.F., C.D.B. and M.J. wrote the manuscript; all authors discussed the data and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to M. Janoschek.

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Fobes, D.M., Zhang, S., Lin, SZ. et al. Tunable emergent heterostructures in a prototypical correlated metal. Nature Phys 14, 456–460 (2018).

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