Single magnetic atoms, and assemblies of such atoms, on non-magnetic surfaces have recently attracted attention owing to their potential use in high-density magnetic data storage and as a platform for quantum computing1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. A fundamental problem resulting from their quantum mechanical nature is that the localized magnetic moments of these atoms are easily destabilized by interactions with electrons, nuclear spins and lattice vibrations of the substrate3,4,5. Even when large magnetic fields are applied to stabilize the magnetic moment, the observed lifetimes remain rather short5,6 (less than a microsecond). Several routes for stabilizing the magnetic moment against fluctuations have been suggested, such as using thin insulating layers between the magnetic atom and the substrate to suppress the interactions with the substrate’s conduction electrons2,3,5, or coupling several magnetic moments together to reduce their quantum mechanical fluctuations7,8. Here we show that the magnetic moments of single holmium atoms on a highly conductive metallic substrate can reach lifetimes of the order of minutes. The necessary decoupling from the thermal bath of electrons, nuclear spins and lattice vibrations is achieved by a remarkable combination of several symmetries intrinsic to the system: time reversal symmetry, the internal symmetries of the total angular momentum and the point symmetry of the local environment of the magnetic atom.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    et al. Giant magnetic anisotropy of single cobalt atoms and nanoparticles. Science 300, 1130–1133 (2003)

  2. 2.

    , , & Single-atom spin-flip spectroscopy. Science 306, 466–469 (2004)

  3. 3.

    et al. Large magnetic anisotropy of a single atomic spin embedded in a surface molecular network. Science 317, 1199–1203 (2007)

  4. 4.

    et al. Magnetic anisotropy and magnetization dynamics of individual atoms and clusters of Fe and Co on Pt(111). Phys. Rev. Lett. 102, 257203 (2009)

  5. 5.

    , , , & Measurement of fast electron spin relaxation times with atomic resolution. Science 329, 1628–1630 (2010)

  6. 6.

    et al. Itinerant nature of atom-magnetization excitation by tunneling electrons. Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 037205 (2011)

  7. 7.

    , , , & Bistability in atomic-scale antiferromagnets. Science 335, 196–199 (2012)

  8. 8.

    et al. Current-driven spin dynamics of artificially constructed quantum magnets. Science 339, 55–59 (2013)

  9. 9.

    Spin inelastic electron tunneling spectroscopy on local spin adsorbed on surface. Nano Lett. 9, 2414–2417 (2009)

  10. 10.

    et al. Magnetic anisotropy and magnetic excitations in supported atoms. Phys. Rev. B 84, 104401 (2011)

  11. 11.

    & Paramagnetic resonance. Rep. Prog. Phys. 16, 108–159 (1953)

  12. 12.

    et al. Magnetic excitations of rare earth atoms and clusters on metallic surfaces. Nano Lett. 12, 4805–4809 (2012)

  13. 13.

    Spectroscopic Properties of Rare Earths Ch. 4.4, 166 (Wiley, 1965)

  14. 14.

    Magnetism and Magnetic Materials 114 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009)

  15. 15.

    , , & Calculated crystal-field parameters of SmCo5. Phys. Rev. B 46, 13919–13927 (1992)

  16. 16.

    Spin mapping at the nanoscale and atomic scale. Rev. Mod. Phys. 81, 1495–1550 (2009)

  17. 17.

    et al. The remarkable difference between surface and step atoms in the magnetic anisotropy of two-dimensional nanostructures. Nature Mater. 2, 546–551 (2003)

  18. 18.

    et al. Strength and directionality of surface Ruderman-Kittel-Kasuya-Yosida interaction mapped on the atomic scale. Nature Phys. 6, 187–191 (2010)

  19. 19.

    , , , & A compact sub-Kelvin ultrahigh vacuum scanning tunneling microscope with high energy resolution and high stability. Rev. Sci. Instrum. 82, 103702 (2011)

  20. 20.

    & Efficient iterative schemes for ab initio total-energy calculations using a plane-wave basis set. Phys. Rev. B 54, 11169–11186 (1996)

  21. 21.

    Ab-initio simulations of materials using VASP: density-functional theory and beyond. J. Comput. Chem. 29, 2044–2078 (2008)

  22. 22.

    , , , & Ab initio angle-resolved photoemission in multiple-scattering formulation. J. Phys. Condens. Matter 13, 8587–8606 (2001)

  23. 23.

    & Electronic structure of impurities in Cu, calculated self-consistently by Korringa-Kohn-Rostoker Green's-function method. Phys. Rev. Lett. 42, 1713–1716 (1979)

  24. 24.

    & Self-interaction correction to density-functional approximations for many-electron systems. Phys. Rev. B 23, 5048–5079 (1981)

  25. 25.

    , & Band theory and Mott insulators: Hubbard U instead of Stoner I. Phys. Rev. B 44, 943–954 (1991)

Download references


We acknowledge funding by the German Science Foundation (DFG) grant number Wu 349/4-2, the DFG priority programme SPP 1538 Spin Caloric Transport and the DFG Collaborative Research Centre SFB 762 Functionality of Oxide Interfaces. The calculations were performed at the Rechenzentrum Garching of the Max Planck Society.

Author information


  1. Physikalisches Institut, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Wolfgang-Gaede-Straße 1, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany

    • Toshio Miyamachi
    • , Tobias Schuh
    • , Tobias Märkl
    • , Christopher Bresch
    • , Timofey Balashov
    • , Alexander Stöhr
    •  & Wulf Wulfhekel
  2. Institute of Solid State Physics, University of Tokyo, 5-1-5 Kashiwanoha, Kashiwashi, Chiba 277-8581, Japan

    • Toshio Miyamachi
  3. Max-Planck-Institut für Festkörperforschung, Heisenbergstraße 1, 70569 Stuttgart, Germany

    • Alexander Stöhr
  4. Institut für Theoretische Festkörperphysik, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Wolfgang-Gaede-Straße 1, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany

    • Christian Karlewski
    • , Stephan André
    • , Michael Marthaler
    •  & Gerd Schön
  5. Max-Planck-Institut für Mikrostrukturphysik, Weinberg 2, 06120 Halle, Germany

    • Martin Hoffmann
    • , Matthias Geilhufe
    • , Sergey Ostanin
    • , Ingrid Mertig
    •  & Arthur Ernst
  6. Institut für Physik, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, 06099 Halle, Germany

    • Martin Hoffmann
    • , Wolfram Hergert
    •  & Ingrid Mertig
  7. Wilhelm-Ostwald-Institut für Physikalische und Theoretische Chemie, Universität Leipzig, Linnéstraße 2, 04103 Leipzig, Germany

    • Arthur Ernst


  1. Search for Toshio Miyamachi in:

  2. Search for Tobias Schuh in:

  3. Search for Tobias Märkl in:

  4. Search for Christopher Bresch in:

  5. Search for Timofey Balashov in:

  6. Search for Alexander Stöhr in:

  7. Search for Christian Karlewski in:

  8. Search for Stephan André in:

  9. Search for Michael Marthaler in:

  10. Search for Martin Hoffmann in:

  11. Search for Matthias Geilhufe in:

  12. Search for Sergey Ostanin in:

  13. Search for Wolfram Hergert in:

  14. Search for Ingrid Mertig in:

  15. Search for Gerd Schön in:

  16. Search for Arthur Ernst in:

  17. Search for Wulf Wulfhekel in:


W.W. conceived the experiments, and T. Miyamachi, T.S., T. Märkl, A.S. and C.B. carried them out. The data were analysed by T. Miyamachi, T.S., T. Märkl, C.B., T.B. and W.W. Group theory of the crystal field was performed by T.S., T.B., C.B. and W.W. Master equations were analysed by C.K., S.A., M.M. and G.S. Ab initio calculations were performed by M.H., M.G., S.O., W.H., I.M. and A.E. The manuscript was written by T.B. and W.W. Figures were prepared by T. Miyamachi. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wulf Wulfhekel.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Figures 1-3, Supplementary Tables 1-2 and Supplementary References.

About this article

Publication history






Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.