Under pressure, the alkali elements sodium, potassium, and rubidium adopt nonperiodic structures based on two incommensurate interpenetrating lattices. While all elements form the same 'host' lattice, their 'guest' lattices are all distinct. The physical mechanism that stabilizes these phases is not known, and detailed calculations are challenging due to the incommensurability ofthe lattices. Using a series of commensurate approximant structures, we tackle this issue using density functional theory calculations. In Na and K, the calculations prove accurate enough to reproduce not only the stability of the host-guest phases, but also the complicated pressure dependence of the host-guest ratio and the two guest-lattice transitions. We find Rb-IV to be metastable at all pressures, and suggest it is a high-temperature phase. The electronic structure of these materials is unique: they exhibit two distinct, coexisting types of electride behavior, with both fully localized pseudoanions and electrons localized in 1D wells in the host lattice, leading to low conductivity. While all phases feature pseudogaps in the electronic density of states, the perturbative free-electron picture applies to Na, but not to K and Rb, due to significant d-orbital population in the latter.
Hermann, Andreas. (2018). Structural and electronic properties of the alkali metal incommensurate phases, [dataset]. University of Edinburgh. School of Physics and Astronomy. Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems. https://doi.org/10.7488/ds/2465.