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Antiferromagnetic ordering and possible lattice response to dynamic uranium valence in U3O8...

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Physical Review B
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Determining the correct electronic structure of U3O8 remains a formidable experimental and theoretical challenge. In the low-temperature phase, two crystallographic U sites are separated into a distinct 2U(V)+1U(VI) oxidation configuration. At low temperatures, the U(V) sites form a distorted honeycomb lattice, but the U(VI) sit on a triangular sublattice, suggesting potential for magnetic frustration effects. The spin configuration of the unpaired f electrons on the U(V) sites is likely antiferromagnetic (AFM) from susceptibility measurements, but this has not been confirmed. Here, we present a neutron scattering investigation of the structure and dynamics of U3O8 from 1.7 to 600 K. We confirm static AFM ordering onset at between 22 and 25 K, which is present down to at least 1.7 K with AFM peaks corresponding to [0.5 1 1] and [0.5 2 2] in the orthorhombic phase. These measurements rule out static AFM order along the a axis of the Amm2 phase, a configuration previously suggested by theory. Above 100 K a quasielastic scattering channel opens that we speculate arises from a lattice relaxation response to thermally activated electron hopping. This term does not conform to a magnetic form factor, so it is not related to spin relaxations. If correct, this mechanism stabilizes a continuous valence transition from 2U(V)+1U(VI) in the low-temperature (T<600 K) orthorhombic phase to the hexagonal phase that contains only one degenerate U site, wherein the U valence can be dynamically stabilized between U(V)↔U(VI) by phonon-assisted electron hopping.