Prominent Role of Spin-Orbit Coupling in FeSe Revealed by Inelastic Neutron Scattering

Mingwei Ma, Philippe Bourges, Yvan Sidis, Yang Xu, Shiyan Li, Biaoyan Hu, Jiarui Li, Fa Wang, and Yuan Li.


In most existing theories for iron-based superconductors, spin-orbit coupling (SOC) has been assumed to be insignificant. Here, we use spin-polarized inelastic neutron scattering to show that collective low-energy spin excitations in the orthorhombic (or “nematic”) phase of FeSe possess nearly no in-plane component. Such spin-space anisotropy is present over an energy range greater than the superconducting gap 2Δsc and gets fully inherited in the superconducting state, resulting in a c-axis polarized “spin resonance” without any noticeable isotropic spectral-weight rearrangement related to the superconductivity, which is distinct from observations in the superconducting iron pnictides. The contrast between the strong suppression of long-range magnetic order in FeSe and the persisting large spin-space anisotropy, which cannot be explained microscopically by introducing single-ion anisotropy into local-moment spin models, demonstrates the importance of SOC in an itinerant-electron description of the low-energy spin excitations. Our result helps to elucidate the nearby magnetic instabilities and the debated interplay between spin and orbital degrees of freedom in FeSe. The prominent role of SOC also implies a possible unusual nature of the superconducting state.