Germanene, the germanium analogue of graphene, shares many properties with its carbon counterpart. Both materials are two-dimensional materials that host Dirac fermions. There are, however, also a few important differences between these two materials: (1) graphene has a planar honeycomb lattice, whereas germanene's honeycomb lattice is buckled and (2) the spin-orbit gap in germanene is predicted to be about three orders of magnitude larger than the spin-orbit gap in graphene (24 meV for germanene versus 20 μeV for graphene). Surprisingly, scanning tunneling spectra recorded on germanene layers synthesized on different substrates do not show any sign of the presence of a spin-orbit gap. To date the exact origin of the absence of this spin-orbit gap in the scanning tunneling spectra of germanene has remained a mystery. In this work we show that the absence of the spin-orbit gap can be explained by germanene's exceptionally low work function of only 3.8 eV. The difference in work function between germanene and the scanning tunneling microscopy tip (the work functions of most commonly used STM tips are in the range of 4.5 to 5.5 eV) gives rise to an electric field in the tunnel junction. This electric field results in a strong suppression of the size of the spin-orbit gap.
- quantum spin Hall effect
- spin-orbit coupling
- two-dimensional Dirac material