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Electric and magnetic domains inverted by a magnetic field
Certain materials contain both electric dipoles and magnetic moments. An experiment demonstrates that these properties can be coupled in previously unrecognized ways, leading to advanced functionality.
The ability to use an electric or magnetic field to manipulate the orientation of electric dipoles or magnetic moments associated with atoms, ions or molecules in a material provides a vast array of functions. In rare materials called magnetoelectric multiferroics, the dipoles are intimately coupled to the moments, and a single field can control both1. After the field is applied, however, the dipoles and moments typically all have the same orientation, and the original pattern that they formed is lost. In a paper Nature, Leo et al.2 show that, in two particular materials, a magnetic field can flip each of the dipoles or moments while preserving the structure of the original pattern. The work illustrates how the complex coupling in these materials could be used to uncover other, previously unobserved electric and magnetic effects.