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Giant magneto-elastic coupling in multiferroic hexagonal manganites


The motion of atoms in a solid always responds to cooling or heating in a way that is consistent with the symmetry of the given space group of the solid to which they belong1,2. When the atoms move, the electronic structure of the solid changes, leading to different physical properties. Therefore, the determination of where atoms are and what atoms do is a cornerstone of modern solid-state physics. However, experimental observations of atomic displacements measured as a function of temperature are very rare, because those displacements are, in almost all cases, exceedingly small3,4,5. Here we show, using a combination of diffraction techniques, that the hexagonal manganites RMnO3 (where R is a rare-earth element) undergo an isostructural transition with exceptionally large atomic displacements: two orders of magnitude larger than those seen in any other magnetic material, resulting in an unusually strong magneto-elastic coupling. We follow the exact atomic displacements of all the atoms in the unit cell as a function of temperature and find consistency with theoretical predictions based on group theories. We argue that this gigantic magneto-elastic coupling in RMnO3 holds the key to the recently observed magneto-electric phenomenon in this intriguing class of materials6.

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Figure 1: Crystal structure of hexagonal RMnO 3 with arrows indicating experimentally observed atomic displacements.
Figure 2: Temperature dependence of the lattice constants and the unit-cell volume together with atomic positions.
Figure 3: Temperature dependence of the Mn x position and the Mn–O bond distances obtained from high-resolution neutron and synchrotron powder diffraction experiments.


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We acknowledge discussions with N. Hur, C. J. Fennie, and S. Streltsov, and thank the Korea Basic Science Institute for allowing us to use a heat capacity set-up. Work at Sungkyunkwan University was supported by the Korea Research Foundation, the CSCMR at Seoul National University, the CNRF project, and the LG Yonam Foundation. Work at Rutgers was supported by the National Science Foundation – MRSEC and work at Tohoku University was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Priority Areas. J.-G.P. acknowledges the KEK, where the final manuscript was prepared, for hospitality.

Author Contributions J.-G.P. planned the study and supervised the analysis. S.L. synthesized all powder samples and carried out powder diffraction experiments with the help of M.K., M.Y., T.K., F.G. and N.S. S.L. analysed the diffraction data together with A.P. and T.K. K.-H.J. measured and analysed the susceptibility and heat capacity data with J.-G.P. S.-W.C. provided single-crystal YMnO3. J.-G.P. performed the single-crystal X-ray experiments with the help of H.K. and Y.N. J.-G.P. discussed the results with S.L., A.P., T.K., S.-W.C. and Y.N., and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to J.-G. Park.

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The file contains Supplementary Table S1-S2 and Supplementary Figures S1-S7 with Legends. (PDF 980 kb)

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Lee, S., Pirogov, A., Kang, M. et al. Giant magneto-elastic coupling in multiferroic hexagonal manganites. Nature 451, 805–808 (2008).

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