Maximal Rashba-like spin splitting via kinetic-energy-coupled inversion-symmetry breaking

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Abstract

Engineering and enhancing the breaking of inversion symmetry in solids—that is, allowing electrons to differentiate between ‘up’ and ‘down’—is a key goal in condensed-matter physics and materials science because it can be used to stabilize states that are of fundamental interest and also have potential practical applications. Examples include improved ferroelectrics for memory devices and materials that host Majorana zero modes for quantum computing1,2. Although inversion symmetry is naturally broken in several crystalline environments, such as at surfaces and interfaces, maximizing the influence of this effect on the electronic states of interest remains a challenge. Here we present a mechanism for realizing a much larger coupling of inversion-symmetry breaking to itinerant surface electrons than is typically achieved. The key element is a pronounced asymmetry of surface hopping energies—that is, a kinetic-energy-coupled inversion-symmetry breaking, the energy scale of which is a substantial fraction of the bandwidth. Using spin- and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy, we demonstrate that such a strong inversion-symmetry breaking, when combined with spin–orbit interactions, can mediate Rashba-like3,4spin splittings that are much larger than would typically be expected. The energy scale of the inversion-symmetry breaking that we achieve is so large that the spin splitting in the CoO2- and RhO2-derived surface states of delafossite oxides becomes controlled by the full atomic spin–orbit coupling of the 3dand 4dtransition metals, resulting in some of the largest known Rashba-like3,4spin splittings. The core structural building blocks that facilitate the bandwidth-scaled inversion-symmetry breaking are common to numerous materials. Our findings therefore provide opportunities for creating spin-textured states and suggest routes to interfacial control of inversion-symmetry breaking in designer heterostructures of oxides and other material classes.

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