Spin-orbit excitations and electronic structure of the putative Kitaev magnet α-RuCl3

Mott insulators with strong spin-orbit coupling have been proposed to host unconventional magnetic states, including the Kitaev quantum spin liquid. The 4d system α-RuCl3 has recently come into view as a candidate Kitaev system, with evidence for unusual spin excitations in magnetic scattering experiments. We apply a combination of optical spectroscopy and Raman scattering to study the electronic structure of this material. Our measurements reveal a series of orbital excitations involving localized total angular momentum states of the Ru ion, implying that strong spin-orbit coupling and electron-electron interactions coexist in this material. Analysis of these features allows us to estimate the spin-orbit coupling strength, as well as other parameters describing the local electronic structure, revealing a well-defined hierarchy of energy scales within the Ru d states. By comparing our experimental results with density functional theory calculations, we also clarify the overall features of the optical response. Our results demonstrate that α-RuCl3 is an ideal material system to study spin-orbit coupled magnetism on the honeycomb lattice.

PHYSICAL REVIEW B 93, 075144 (2016) PDF_IMG