Dirac points are central to many phenomena in condensed-matter physics, from massless electrons in graphene to the emergence of conducting edge states in topological insulators. At a Dirac point, two energy bands intersect linearly and the electrons behave as relativistic Dirac fermions. In solids, the rigid structure of the material determines the mass and velocity of the electrons, as well as their interactions. A different, highly flexible means of studying condensed-matter phenomena is to create model systems using ultracold atoms trapped in the periodic potential of interfering laser beams. Here we report the creation of Dirac points with adjustable properties in a tunable honeycomb optical lattice. Using momentum-resolved interband transitions, we observe a minimum bandgap inside the Brillouin zone at the positions of the two Dirac points. We exploit the unique tunability of our lattice potential to adjust the effective mass of the Dirac fermions by breaking inversion symmetry. Moreover, changing the lattice anisotropy allows us to change the positions of the Dirac points inside the Brillouin zone. When the anisotropy exceeds a critical limit, the two Dirac points merge and annihilate each other-a situation that has recently attracted considerable theoretical interest but that is extremely challenging to observe in solids. We map out this topological transition in lattice parameter space and find excellent agreement with ab initio calculations. Our results not only pave the way to model materials in which the topology of the band structure is crucial, but also provide an avenue to exploring many-body phases resulting from the interplay of complex lattice geometries with interactions.
© 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved