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Abstract The interplay between a multitude of electronic, spin, and lattice degrees of freedom underlies the complex phase diagrams of quantum materials. Layer stacking in van der Waals (vdW) heterostructures is responsible for exotic electronic and magnetic properties, which inspires stacking control of two-dimensional magnetism. Beyond the interplay between stacking order and interlayer magnetism, we discover a spin-shear coupling mechanism in which a subtle shear of the atomic layers can have a profound effect on the intralayer magnetic order in a family of vdW antiferromagnets. Using time-resolved X-ray diffraction and optical linear dichroism measurements, interlayer shear is identified as the primary structural degree of freedom that couples with magnetic order. The recovery times of both shear and magnetic order upon optical excitation diverge at the magnetic ordering temperature with the same critical exponent. The time-dependent Ginzburg-Landau theory shows that this concurrent critical slowing down arises from a linear coupling of the interlayer shear to the magnetic order, which is dictated by the broken mirror symmetry intrinsic to the monoclinic stacking. Our results highlight the importance of interlayer shear in ultrafast control of magnetic order via spin-mechanical coupling.Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
Nonequilibrium phase transitions play a pivotal role in broad physical contexts, from condensed matter to cosmology. Tracking the formation of nonequilibrium phases in condensed matter requires a resolution of the long-range cooperativity on ultra-short timescales. Here, we study the spontaneous transformation of a charge-density wave in CeTe3from a stripe order into a bi-directional state inaccessible thermodynamically but is induced by intense laser pulses. With ≈100 fs resolution coherent electron diffraction, we capture the entire course of this transformation and show self-organization that defines a nonthermal critical point, unveiling the nonequilibrium energy landscape. We discuss the generation of instabilities by a swift interaction quench that changes the system symmetry preference, and the phase ordering dynamics orchestrated over a nonadiabatic timescale to allow new order parameter fluctuations to gain long-range correlations. Remarkably, the subsequent thermalization locks the remnants of the transient order into longer-lived topological defects for more than 2 ns.