Giant phonon anomalies in the proximate Kitaev quantum spin liquid α-RuCl3

The Kitaev quantum spin liquid epitomizes an entangled topological state, for which twoflavors of fractionalized low-energy excitations are predicted: the itinerant Majorana fermion and the Z2 gauge flux. It was proposed recently that fingerprints of fractional excitations are encoded in the phonon spectra of Kitaev quantum spin liquids through a novel fractional- excitation-phonon coupling. Here, we detect anomalous phonon effects in α-RuCl3 using inelastic X-ray scattering with meV resolution. At high temperature, we discover interlaced optical phonons intercepting a transverse acoustic phonon between 3 and 7 meV. Upon decreasing temperature, the optical phonons display a large intensity enhancement near the Kitaev energy, JK~8 meV, that coincides with a giant acoustic phonon softening near the Zgauge flux energy scale. These phonon anomalies signify the coupling of phonon and Kitaev magnetic excitations in α-RuCl3 and demonstrates a proof-of-principle method to detect anomalous excitations in topological quantum materials.