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Light-induced charge density wave in LaTe3


When electrons in a solid are excited by light, they can alter the free energy landscape and access phases of matter that are out of reach in thermal equilibrium. This accessibility becomes important in the presence of phase competition, when one state of matter is preferred over another by only a small energy scale that, in principle, is surmountable by the excitation. Here, we study a layered compound, LaTe3, where a small lattice anisotropy in the ac plane results in a unidirectional charge density wave (CDW) along the c axis1,2. Using ultrafast electron diffraction, we find that, after photoexcitation, the CDW along the c axis is weakened and a different competing CDW along the a axis subsequently emerges. The timescales characterizing the relaxation of this new CDW and the reestablishment of the original CDW are nearly identical, which points towards a strong competition between the two orders. The new density wave represents a transient non-equilibrium phase of matter with no equilibrium counterpart, and this study thus provides a framework for discovering similar states of matter that are ‘trapped’ under equilibrium conditions.

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Fig. 1: Observation of a transient CDW induced by an 80 fs, 800 nm laser pulse.
Fig. 2: Dynamics of the light-induced CDW.
Fig. 3: Dependence of equilibrium and transient CDW peaks on pump laser fluence.
Fig. 4: Transient CDW seeded by topological defects.

Data availability

The data represented in Figs. 1b, 2b, 3 and 4a are available with the online version of this paper. All other data that supports the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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We thank P.A. Lee, E. Demler, B.V. Fine and A. Aristova for illuminating discussions regarding this work. We thank B. Freelon for pioneering the instrumentation work of the keV UED set-up at MIT. We acknowledge support from the US Department of Energy, BES DMSE (keV UED), from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s EPiQS Initiative grant GBMF4540 (data analysis, manuscript writing) and the Skoltech NGP Program (Skoltech-MIT joint project) (theory). We acknowledge support from the US Department of Energy BES SUF Division Accelerator & Detector R&D program, the LCLS Facility and SLAC under contracts DE-AC02-05-CH11231 and DE-AC02-76SF00515 (MeV UED at SLAC). Sample growth and characterization work at Stanford was supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, under contract DE-AC02-76SF00515. I.-C.T. and H.W. acknowledge support from the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division, under contract DE-SC0012509. Y.-Q.B., Xirui Wang, Y.Y. and P.J.-H. acknowledge support from the Center for Excitonics, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, under award no. DE-SC0001088, as well as the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s EPiQS Initiative through grant no. GBMF4541 (sample preparation and characterization).

Author information




A.K., A.Z., X.S., I.-C.T., H.W. and T.R. collected the MeV UED data. A.K. and A.Z. collected the keV UED data. Xirui Wang, A.Z., Y.-Q.B., Y.Y., E.J.S. and S.P. prepared the samples for measurements. P.E.D. performed theoretical calculations. J.S., with supervision by I.R.F., grew the crystals for the experiment. X.S., R.L., J.Y., S.W., M.E.K. and Xijie Wang built the MeV beamline and set up the accompanying optics used in the experiment. A.K. and A.Z. performed the data analysis with help from P.E.D., J.S., I.R.F. and N.G., who provided theoretical input. A.K. and A.Z. wrote the paper with critical input from N.G., P.E.D., J.S., I.R.F. and all other authors. The work was supervised by N.G.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nuh Gedik.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review statement Nature Physics thanks Peter Baum, Sheng Meng and Claus Ropers and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–4 and refs. 33–39.

Supplementary Video

Temporal evolution of intensities from electron diffraction patterns at the CDW peaks around the (–1 0 2) peak.

Source data

Source data Fig 1b

Source data for Fig. 1b

Source data Fig 2b

Source data for Fig. 2b

Source data Fig 3

Source data for Fig. 3

Source data Fig 4a

Source data for Fig. 4a

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Kogar, A., Zong, A., Dolgirev, P.E. et al. Light-induced charge density wave in LaTe3. Nat. Phys. 16, 159–163 (2020).

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