A spin-orbital-entangled quantum liquid on a honeycomb lattice

Nature. 2018 Feb 14;554(7692):341-345. doi: 10.1038/nature25482.


The honeycomb lattice is one of the simplest lattice structures. Electrons and spins on this simple lattice, however, often form exotic phases with non-trivial excitations. Massless Dirac fermions can emerge out of itinerant electrons, as demonstrated experimentally in graphene, and a topological quantum spin liquid with exotic quasiparticles can be realized in spin-1/2 magnets, as proposed theoretically in the Kitaev model. The quantum spin liquid is a long-sought exotic state of matter, in which interacting spins remain quantum-disordered without spontaneous symmetry breaking. The Kitaev model describes one example of a quantum spin liquid, and can be solved exactly by introducing two types of Majorana fermion. Realizing a Kitaev model in the laboratory, however, remains a challenge in materials science. Mott insulators with a honeycomb lattice of spin-orbital-entangled pseudospin-1/2 moments have been proposed, including the 5d-electron systems α-Na2IrO3 (ref. 5) and α-Li2IrO3 (ref. 6) and the 4d-electron system α-RuCl3 (ref. 7). However, these candidates were found to magnetically order rather than form a liquid at sufficiently low temperatures, owing to non-Kitaev interactions. Here we report a quantum-liquid state of pseudospin-1/2 moments in the 5d-electron honeycomb compound H3LiIr2O6. This iridate does not display magnetic ordering down to 0.05 kelvin, despite an interaction energy of about 100 kelvin. We observe signatures of low-energy fermionic excitations that originate from a small number of spin defects in the nuclear-magnetic-resonance relaxation and the specific heat. We therefore conclude that H3LiIr2O6 is a quantum spin liquid. This result opens the door to finding exotic quasiparticles in a strongly spin-orbit-coupled 5d-electron transition-metal oxide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't