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Magnetic phase control by an electric field


The quest for higher data density in information storage is motivating investigations into approaches for manipulating magnetization by means other than magnetic fields. This is evidenced by the recent boom in magnetoelectronics and ‘spintronics’1, where phenomena such as carrier effects in magnetic semiconductors2 and high-correlation effects in colossal magnetoresistive compounds3 are studied for their device potential. The linear magnetoelectric effect—the induction of polarization by a magnetic field and of magnetization by an electric field—provides another route for linking magnetic and electric properties. It was recently discovered that composite materials and magnetic ferroelectrics exhibit magnetoelectric effects that exceed previously known effects4,5 by orders of magnitude6,7,8,9,10, with the potential to trigger magnetic or electric phase transitions. Here we report a system whose magnetic phase can be controlled by an external electric field: ferromagnetic ordering in hexagonal HoMnO3 is reversibly switched on and off by the applied field via magnetoelectric interactions. We monitor this process using magneto-optical techniques and reveal its microscopic origin by neutron and X-ray diffraction. From our results, we identify basic requirements for other candidate materials to exhibit magnetoelectric phase control.

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Figure 1: Magnetic structure of hexagonal HoMnO3.
Figure 2: Dependence of magneto-optical properties of HoMnO3 on electric field.
Figure 3: Spatially resolved Faraday rotation.
Figure 4: Microscopic manifestation of the magnetoelectric effect.

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We thank K. Kohn and K. Hagdorn for samples, and the DFG and the BMBF for financial support. M. F. thanks T. Elsässer for continuous support.

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Correspondence to Manfred Fiebig.

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Lottermoser, T., Lonkai, T., Amann, U. et al. Magnetic phase control by an electric field. Nature 430, 541–544 (2004).

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