Strongly frustrated triangular spin lattice emerging from triplet dimer formation in honeycomb Li2IrO3

Iridium oxides with a honeycomb lattice have been identified as platforms for the much anticipated Kitaev topological spin liquid: the spin-orbit entangled states of Ir4+in principle generate precisely the required type of anisotropic exchange. However, other magnetic couplings can drive the system away from the spin-liquid phase. With this in mind, here we disentangle the different magnetic interactions in Li2IrO3, a honeycomb iridate with two crystallographically inequivalent sets of adjacent Ir sites. Our ab initio many-body calculations show that, while both Heisenberg and Kitaev nearest-neighbour couplings are present, on one set of Ir-Ir bonds the former dominates, resulting in the formation of spin-triplet dimers. The triplet dimers frame a strongly frustrated triangular lattice and by exact cluster diagonalization we show that they remain protected in a wide region of the phase diagram.