Visualizing broken symmetry and topological defects in a quantum Hall ferromagnet

The interaction between electrons in graphene under high magnetic fields drives the formation of a rich set of quantum Hall ferromagnetic phases (QHFM), with broken spin or valley symmetry. Visualizing atomic scale electronic wavefunctions with scanning tunneling spectroscopy (STS), we resolve microscopic signatures of valley ordering in QHFM and spectral features of fractional quantum Hall phases of graphene. At charge neutrality, we observe a field-tuned continuous quantum phase transition from a valley polarized state to an intervalley coherent state, with a Kekule distortion of its electronic density. Mapping the valley texture extracted from STS measurements of the Kekule phase, we visualize valley skyrmion excitations localized near charged defects. Our techniques can be applied to examine valley ordered phases and their topological excitations in a wide range of materials.

Valley skyrmion in graphene

Valley skyrmion in graphene visualized by a scanning tunneling microscope.

X. Liu, G. Farahi, C.-L. Chiu, Z. Papic, K. Watanabe, T. Taniguchi, M. P. Zaletal and A. Yazdani, "Visualizing broken symmetry and topological defects in a quantum Hall ferromagnet," Science (2021).

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