Published: April 13, 2014

picSpin–orbit coupling can induce spin polarization in nonmagnetic 3D crystals when the inversion symmetry is broken, as manifested by the bulk Rashba and Dresselhaus effects. We establish that these spin-polarization effects originate fundamentally from specific atomic site asymmetries, rather than, as generally accepted, from the asymmetry of the crystal space group. This understanding leads to the recognition that a previously overlooked hidden form of spin polarization should exist in centrosymmetric crystals. Although all energy bands must be doubly degenerate in centrosymmetric materials, we find that the two components of such doubly degenerate bands could have opposite polarizations, each spatially localized on one of the two separate sectors forming the inversion partners. We demonstrate such hidden spin polarizations in particular centrosymmetric crystals by first-principles calculations. This new understanding could considerably broaden the range of currently useful spintronic materials and enable the control of spin polarization by means of operations on the atomic scale.

X. Zhang, Q. Liu, J.W. Luo, A. J. Freeman, A. Zunger,"Hidden spin polarization in inversion-symmetric bulk crystals," Nature Physics 10, 387-393 (2014).(PDF)