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Quantifying magnetic field driven lattice distortions in kagome metals at the femtometer scale using scanning tunneling microscopy

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Physical Review B
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A wide array of unusual phenomena has recently been uncovered in kagome solids. The charge density wave (CDW) state in the kagome superconductor AV3Sb5, in particular, intrigued the community; the CDW phase appears to break the time-reversal symmetry despite the absence of spin magnetism, which has been tied to exotic orbital loop currents possibly intertwined with magnetic field tunable crystal distortions. To test this connection, precise determination of the lattice response to an applied magnetic field is crucial but can be challenging at the atomic scale. We establish a scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) based method to study the evolution of the AV3Sb5 atomic structure as a function of magnetic field. The method substantially reduces the errors of typical STM measurements, which are at the order of 1% when measuring an in-plane lattice constant change. We find that the out-of-plane lattice constant of AV3Sb5 remains unchanged (within 10−6) by the application of both in-plane and out-of-plane magnetic fields. We also reveal that the in-plane lattice response to magnetic field is at most at the order of 0.05%. Our experiments provide further constraints on time-reversal symmetry breaking in kagome metals and establish a tool for higher-resolution extraction of the field-lattice coupling at the nanoscale applicable to other quantum materials.