Defect-induced electronic smectic state at the surface of nematic materials

Aritra Lahiri, Avraham Klein, Rafael M. Fernandes

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Due to the intertwining between electronic nematic and elastic degrees of freedom, lattice defects and structural inhomogeneities commonly found in crystals can have a significant impact on the electronic properties of nematic materials. Here, we show that defects commonly present at the surface of crystals generally shift the wave vector of the nematic instability to a nonzero value, resulting in an incommensurate electronic smectic phase. Such a smectic state onsets above the bulk nematic transition temperature and is localized near the surface of the sample. We argue that this effect may explain not only recent observations of a modulated nematic phase in iron-based superconductors, but also several previous puzzling experiments that reported signatures consistent with nematic order before the onset of a bulk structural distortion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL140503
JournalPhysical Review B
Issue number14
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments. We acknowledge fruitful discussions with B. Davidovitch, D. Pelc, M. Greven, and J. Schmalian. We also thank Y. Matsuda, T. Shibauchi, and T. Shimojima for valuable discussions about their PEEM data. This work was supported by the U. S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division, under Award No. DESC0020045 (R.M.F.). A.K. and R.M.F. acknowledge the hospitality of KITP at UCSB, where part of the work was conducted. The research at KITP is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. NSF PHY-1748958.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Physical Society.


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