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Nonlinear propagating modes beyond the phonons in fluorite-structured crystals

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Communications Physics
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The vibrational energy of crystals is known to propagate in a fixed number of phonon branches allowed by symmetry. In the realm of nonlinear dynamics, however, additional nonlinear propagating modes are possible. Nonlinear propagating modes have unique properties that are important in many disciplines including optical communications, conducting polymers, biology, magnetism, and nuclear physics. Yet, despite the crucial importance of crystal lattice vibrations in fundamental and applied science, such additional propagating modes have not been observed in ordinary crystals. Here, we show that propagating modes exist beyond the phonons in fluorite-structured thoria, urania, and natural calcium fluoride using neutron scattering and first-principles calculations. These modes are observed at temperatures ranging from 5 K up to 1200 K, extend to frequencies 30–40% higher than the maximum phonon frequency, and travel at velocities comparable to or higher than the fastest phonon. The nonlinear origin of the modes is explained in part via perturbation theory, which approximately accounts for nonlinearity. Given that these modes are still clearly observed at 5 K, they are likely an inherent feature of the quantum ground state. The existence of these waves in three-dimensional crystals may have ramifications for material properties.