A simple electron counting model for half-Heusler surfaces

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Science Advances  01 Jun 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 6, eaar5832
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar5832


Heusler compounds are a ripe platform for discovery and manipulation of emergent properties in topological and magnetic heterostructures. In these applications, the surfaces and interfaces are critical to performance; however, little is known about the atomic-scale structure of Heusler surfaces and interfaces or why they reconstruct. Using a combination of molecular beam epitaxy, core-level and angle-resolved photoemission, scanning tunneling microscopy, and density functional theory, we map the phase diagram and determine the atomic and electronic structures for several surface reconstructions of CoTiSb (001), a prototypical semiconducting half-Heusler. At low Sb coverage, the surface is characterized by Sb-Sb dimers and Ti vacancies, while, at high Sb coverage, an adlayer of Sb forms. The driving forces for reconstruction are charge neutrality and minimizing the number of Sb dangling bonds, which form metallic surface states within the bulk bandgap. We develop a simple electron counting model that explains the atomic and electronic structure, as benchmarked against experiments and first-principles calculations. We then apply the model to explain previous experimental observations at other half-Heusler surfaces, including the topological semimetal PtLuSb and the half-metallic ferromagnet NiMnSb. The model provides a simple framework for understanding and predicting the surface structure and properties of these novel quantum materials.

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