Ferro-orbital order and strong magnetic anisotropy in the parent compounds of iron-pnictide superconductors

Phys Rev Lett. 2009 Dec 31;103(26):267001. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.103.267001. Epub 2009 Dec 22.


The puzzling nature of magnetic and lattice phase transitions of iron pnictides is investigated via a first-principles Wannier function analysis of representative parent compound LaOFeAs. A rare ferro-orbital ordering is found to give rise to the recently observed highly anisotropic magnetic coupling, and drive both phase transitions--without resorting to widely employed frustration or nesting picture. The revealed necessity of the additional orbital physics leads to a correlated electronic structure fundamentally distinct from that of the cuprates. In particular, the strong coupling to the magnons advocates active roles of light orbitons in spin dynamics and electron pairing in iron pnictides.