Monoclinic crystal structure of α-RuCl3 and the zigzag antiferromagnetic ground state

R. D. Johnson, S. C. Williams, A. A. Haghighirad, J. Singleton, V. Zapf, P. Manuel, I. I. Mazin, Y. Li, Harald Olaf Jeschke, R. Valentí, R. Coldea

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Abstract

The layered honeycomb magnet α-RuCl3 has been proposed as a candidate to realize a Kitaev spin model with strongly frustrated, bond-dependent, anisotropic interactions between spin-orbit entangled jeff=12Ru3+ magnetic moments. Here, we report a detailed study of the three-dimensional crystal structure using x-ray diffraction on untwinned crystals combined with structural relaxation calculations. We consider several models for the stacking of honeycomb layers and find evidence for a parent crystal structure with a monoclinic unit cell corresponding to a stacking of layers with a unidirectional in-plane offset, with occasional in-plane sliding stacking faults, in contrast with the currently assumed trigonal three-layer stacking periodicity. We report electronic band-structure calculations for the monoclinic structure, which find support for the applicability of the jeff=12 picture once spin-orbit coupling and electron correlations are included. Of the three nearest-neighbor Ru-Ru bonds that comprise the honeycomb lattice, the monoclinic structure makes the bond parallel to the b axis nonequivalent to the other two, and we propose that the resulting differences in the magnitude of the anisotropic exchange along these bonds could provide a natural mechanism to explain the previously reported spin gap in powder inelastic neutron scattering measurements, in contrast to spin models based on the three-fold symmetric trigonal structure, which predict a gapless spectrum within linear spin wave theory. Our susceptibility measurements on both powders and stacked crystals, as well as magnetic neutron powder diffraction, show a single magnetic transition upon cooling below TN≈13 K. The analysis of our neutron powder diffraction data provides evidence for zigzag magnetic order in the honeycomb layers with an antiferromagnetic stacking between layers. Magnetization measurements on stacked single crystals in pulsed field up to 60 T show a single transition around 8 T for in-plane fields followed by a gradual, asymptotic approach to magnetization saturation, as characteristic of strongly anisotropic exchange interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number235119
JournalPhysical Review B - Condensed Matter and Materials Physics
Volume92
Issue number23
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 10 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics

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    Johnson, R. D., Williams, S. C., Haghighirad, A. A., Singleton, J., Zapf, V., Manuel, P., Mazin, I. I., Li, Y., Jeschke, H. O., Valentí, R., & Coldea, R. (2015). Monoclinic crystal structure of α-RuCl3 and the zigzag antiferromagnetic ground state. Physical Review B - Condensed Matter and Materials Physics, 92(23), [235119]. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevB.92.235119