Microscopic evidence for strong periodic lattice distortion in two-dimensional charge-density wave systems
In quasi-two-dimensional electron systems of layered transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs) there is still controversy about the nature of the transitions to charge-density wave (CDW) phases, i.e., whether they are described by a Peierls-type mechanism or by a lattice-driven model. By performing scanning tunneling microscopy experiments on canonical TMD-CDW systems, we image the electronic modulation and the lattice distortion separately in 2H-TaS2, TaSe2, and NbSe2. Across the three materials, we found dominant lattice contributions instead of the electronic modulation expected from Peierls transitions, in contrast to the CDW states, which show the hallmark of contrast inversion between filled and empty states. Our results imply that periodic lattice distortion plays a vital role in the formation of CDW phases in TMDs and illustrate the importance of taking into account the more complicated lattice degrees of freedom when studying correlated electron systems.