Local structure of the SnTe topological crystalline insulator: Rhombohedral distortions emerging from the rocksalt phase
AIVBVI crystals are believed to possess a rhombohedral (ferroelectric) structure at low temperature that changes to the rocksalt (paraelectric) structure above the Curie temperature. For GeTe it has been recently demonstrated that locally the structure retains the subsets of the shorter and longer bonds across the ferroelectric-to-paraelectric transition despite acquiring the cubic structure on average. Nothing is known about the existence of local distortions in SnTe, a prototypical topological crystalline insulator, where the crystal symmetry plays a crucial role. In this work we report the results of x-ray absorption measurements. We find that the structure is locally rhombohedrally distorted, and the distortions increase at T >100K, breaking the rocksalt average symmetry. Our density functional theory simulations performed at 0 K indicate that the role of spin-orbit coupling in the formation of the local structure of SnTe at low temperature is negligibly small. The small stochastic distortions do not affect the intrinsic band inversion of SnTe.