Observation of plaquette fluctuations in the spin-1/2 honeycomb lattice

Quantum spin liquids are materials that feature quantum entangled spin correlations and avoid magnetic long-range order at T =0 K. Particularly interesting are two-dimensional honeycomb spin lattices where a plethora of exotic quantum spin liquids have been predicted. Here, we experimentally study an effective S = 1/2 Heisenberg honeycomb lattice with competing nearest and next-nearest-neighbour interactions. We demonstrate that YbBr3 avoids order down to at least T = 100 mK and features a dynamic spin–spin correlation function with broad continuum scattering typical of quantum spin liquids near a quantum critical point. The continuum in the spin spectrum is consistent with plaquette type fluctuations predicted by theory. Our study is the experimental demonstration that strong quantum fluctuations can exist on the honeycomb lattice even in the absence of Kitaev-type interactions, and opens a new perspective on quantum spin liquids.