Giant spin splitting of the two-dimensional electron gas at the surface of SrTiO3
Two-dimensional electron gases (2DEGs) forming at the interfaces of transition metal oxides(1-3) exhibit a range of properties, including tunable insulator-superconductor-metal transitions(4-6), large magnetoresistance(7), coexisting ferromagnetism and superconductivity(8,9), and a spin splitting of a few meV (refs 10,11). Strontium titanate (SrTiO3), the cornerstone of such oxide-based electronics, is a transparent, non-magnetic, wide-bandgap insulator in the bulk, and has recently been found to host a surface 2DEG (refs 12-15). The most strongly confined carriers within this 2DEG comprise two subbands, separated by an energy gap of 90 meV and forming concentric circular Fermi surfaces(12,13,15). Using spin-and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (SARPES), we show that the electron spins in these subbands have opposite chiralities. Although the Rashba effect might be expected to give rise to such spin textures, the giant splitting of almost 100 meV at the Fermi level is far larger than anticipated(16,17). Moreover, in contrast to a simple Rashba system, the spin-polarized subbands are non-degenerate at the Brillouin zone centre. This degeneracy can be lifted by time-reversal symmetry breaking, implying the possible existence of magnetic order. These results show that confined electronic states at oxide surfaces can be endowed with novel, non-trivial properties that are both theoretically challenging to anticipate and promising for technological applications.