Atomic-scale visualization of surface-assisted orbital order

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Science Advances  22 Sep 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 9, eaao0362
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao0362

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Orbital-related physics attracts growing interest in condensed matter research, but direct real-space access of the orbital degree of freedom is challenging. We report a first, real-space, imaging of a surface-assisted orbital ordered structure on a cobalt-terminated surface of the well-studied heavy fermion compound CeCoIn5. Within small tip-sample distances, the cobalt atoms on a cleaved (001) surface take on dumbbell shapes alternatingly aligned in the [100] and [010] directions in scanning tunneling microscopy topographies. First-principles calculations reveal that this structure is a consequence of the staggered dxz-dyz orbital order triggered by enhanced on-site Coulomb interaction at the surface. This so far overlooked surface-assisted orbital ordering may prevail in transition metal oxides, heavy fermion superconductors, and other materials.

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