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Magnetic control of ferroelectric polarization


The magnetoelectric effect—the induction of magnetization by means of an electric field and induction of polarization by means of a magnetic field—was first presumed to exist by Pierre Curie1, and subsequently attracted a great deal of interest in the 1960s and 1970s (refs 2–4). More recently, related studies on magnetic ferroelectrics5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14 have signalled a revival of interest in this phenomenon. From a technological point of view, the mutual control of electric and magnetic properties is an attractive possibility15, but the number of candidate materials is limited and the effects are typically too small to be useful in applications. Here we report the discovery of ferroelectricity in a perovskite manganite, TbMnO3, where the effect of spin frustration causes sinusoidal antiferromagnetic ordering. The modulated magnetic structure is accompanied by a magnetoelastically induced lattice modulation, and with the emergence of a spontaneous polarization. In the magnetic ferroelectric TbMnO3, we found gigantic magnetoelectric and magnetocapacitance effects, which can be attributed to switching of the electric polarization induced by magnetic fields. Frustrated spin systems therefore provide a new area to search for magnetoelectric media.

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Figure 1: Appearance of ferroelectricity below a lock-in transition temperature in TbMnO3.
Figure 2: Electric polarization flop induced by magnetic fields in TbMnO3.
Figure 3: Magnetocapacitance and magnetoelectric effects in TbMnO3.
Figure 4: Temperature versus magnetic field phase diagram for TbMnO3 for magnetic field applied along the b axis.


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We thank K. Kohn, K. Ohgushi, S. Ishihara and A. P. Ramirez for discussions, and Y. Wakabayashi for help with X-ray diffraction measurements. This work was partly supported by KAKENHI from the MEXT of Japan.

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Kimura, T., Goto, T., Shintani, H. et al. Magnetic control of ferroelectric polarization. Nature 426, 55–58 (2003).

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