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Field-tuned ferroquadrupolar quantum phase transition in the insulator TmVO4...

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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We report results of low-temperature heat-capacity, magnetocaloric-effect, and neutron-diffraction measurements of TmVO4, an insulator that undergoes a continuous ferroquadrupolar phase transition associated with local partially filled 4f orbitals of the thulium (Tm3+) ions. The ferroquadrupolar transition, a realization of Ising nematicity, can be tuned to a quantum critical point by using a magnetic field oriented along the c axis of the tetragonal crystal lattice, which acts as an effective transverse field for the Ising-nematic order. In small magnetic fields, the thermal phase transition can be well described by using a semiclassical mean-field treatment of the transverse-field Ising model. However, in higher magnetic fields, closer to the field-tuned quantum phase transition, subtle deviations from this semiclassical behavior are observed, which are consistent with expectations of quantum fluctuations. Although the phase transition is driven by the local 4f degrees of freedom, the crystal lattice still plays a crucial role, both in terms of mediating the interactions between the local quadrupoles and in determining the critical scaling exponents, even though the phase transition itself can be described via mean field. In particular, bilinear coupling of the nematic order parameter to acoustic phonons changes the spatial and temporal fluctuations of the former in a fundamental way, resulting in different critical behavior of the nematic transverse-field Ising model, as compared to the usual case of the magnetic transverse-field Ising model. Our results establish TmVO4 as a model material and electronic nematicity as a paradigmatic example for quantum criticality in insulators.