The Origin of Nematic Order in the Iron-Based Superconductors
A theory of superconductivity in the iron-based materials requires an understanding of the phase diagram of the normal state. In these compounds, superconductivity emerges when stripe spin density wave (SDW) order is suppressed by doping, pressure or disorder, suggesting a possible role for magnetic fluctuations in the pairing mechanism. Experimentally, SDW order is often pre-empted by nematic order whose phase transition occurs at a slightly higher temperature but whose origin is yet to be resolved. One scenario is that the nematic order is unrelated to magnetism and reflects an orbital ordering of the iron 3d-electrons. This ordering triggers the anisotropic magnetic coupling that produces stripe SDW order at a lower T . Another scenario is that stripe-SDW magnetism is the primary instability, but the magnetic transition occurs in two steps: first four-fold spin-rotational symmetry gets broken and the system develops spin-nematic order, and then time-reversal symmetry also gets broken, and full stripe-SDW order develops. Because spin-nematic order also induces orbital order, it is difficult to distinguish between the two scenarios experimentally. In this letter, we show that the magnetic scenario predicts that, at high doping, the system should undergo a transition at T < TN into a new SDW phase in which four-fold rotational symmetry is restored. We have now observed a first-order transition to such a phase in Ba0.76Na0.24Fe2As2, in good agreement with the spin-nematic model.