Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Room-temperature magnetic order on zigzag edges of narrow graphene nanoribbons


The possibility that non-magnetic materials such as carbon could exhibit a novel type of sp electron magnetism has attracted much attention over the years, not least because such magnetic order is predicted to be stable at high temperatures1. It has been demonstrated that atomic-scale structural defects of graphene can host unpaired spins2,3, but it remains unclear under what conditions long-range magnetic order can emerge from such defect-bound magnetic moments. Here we propose that, in contrast to random defect distributions, atomic-scale engineering of graphene edges with specific crystallographic orientation—comprising edge atoms from only one sub-lattice of the bipartite graphene lattice—can give rise to a robust magnetic order. We use a nanofabrication technique4 based on scanning tunnelling microscopy to define graphene nanoribbons with nanometre precision and well-defined crystallographic edge orientations. Although so-called ‘armchair’ ribbons display quantum confinement gaps, ribbons with the ‘zigzag’ edge structure that are narrower than 7 nanometres exhibit an electronic bandgap of about 0.2–0.3 electronvolts, which can be identified as a signature of interaction-induced spin ordering along their edges. Moreover, upon increasing the ribbon width, a semiconductor-to-metal transition is revealed, indicating the switching of the magnetic coupling between opposite ribbon edges from the antiferromagnetic to the ferromagnetic configuration. We found that the magnetic order on graphene edges of controlled zigzag orientation can be stable even at room temperature, raising hopes of graphene-based spintronic devices operating under ambient conditions.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Fabrication of graphene nanoribbons with precisely defined crystallographic edge orientations.
Figure 2: Edge-specific electronic and magnetic properties of graphene nanoribbons.
Figure 3: Correlating electronic and magnetic properties of zigzag graphene nanoribbons.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Magnetism, C.-B. An Overview of Metal Free Carbon-Based Compounds and Materials (eds Makarova, T. & Palacio, F. ) (Elsevier, 2005)

    Google Scholar 

  2. Nair, R. R. et al. Spin-half paramagnetism in graphene induced by point defects. Nature Phys. 8, 199–202 (2012)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Yazyev, O. V. & Helm, L. Defect-induced magnetism in graphene. Phys. Rev. B 75, 125408 (2007)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Tapasztó, L., Dobrik, G., Lambin, P. & Biro, L. P. Tailoring the atomic structure of graphene nanoribbons by scanning tunneling microscopy lithography. Nature Nanotechnol. 3, 397–401 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Esquinazi, P. et al. Induced magnetic ordering by proton irradiation in graphite. Phys. Rev. Lett. 91, 227201 (2003)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Palacios, J. J. et al. Vacancy-induced magnetism in graphene and graphene ribbons. Phys. Rev. B 77, 195428 (2008)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. Novoselov, K. S. et al. Two-dimensional gas of massless Dirac fermions in graphene. Nature 438, 197–200 (2005)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Wang, Y. et al. Room-temperature ferromagnetism of graphene. Nano Lett. 9, 220–224 (2009)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Chen, L. et al. Towards intrinsic magnetism of graphene sheets with irregular zigzag edges. Sci. Rep. 3, 2599 (2013)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Nakada, K. et al. Edge state in graphene ribbons: nanometer size effect and edge shape dependence. Phys. Rev. B 54, 17954–17961 (1996)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Fujita, M. et al. Peculiar localized state at zigzag graphite edge. J. Phys. Soc. Jpn 65, 1920–1923 (1996)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Han, M. et al. Energy band-gap engineering of graphene nanoribbons. Phys. Rev. Lett. 98, 206805 (2007)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  13. Li, X. et al. Chemically derived, ultrasmooth graphene nanoribbon semiconductors. Science 319, 1229–1232 (2008)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Mucciolo, E. R. et al. Conductance quantization and transport gaps in disordered graphene nanoribbons. Phys. Rev. B 79, 075407 (2009)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. Ritter, K. A. & Lyding, J. W. The influence of edge structure on the electronic properties of graphene quantum dots and nanoribbons. Nature Mater. 8, 235–242 (2009)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Son, Y. W. et al. Energy gaps in graphene nanoribbons. Phys. Rev. Lett. 97, 216803 (2006)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Son, Y. W. et al. Half-metallic graphene nanoribbons. Nature 444, 347–349 (2006)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Jung, J. & Macdonald, A. H. Carrier density and magnetism in graphene zigzag nanoribbons. Phys. Rev. B 79, 235433 (2009)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  19. Golor, M. et al. Quantum Monte Carlo studies of edge magnetism in chiral graphene nanoribbons. Phys. Rev. B 87, 155441 (2013)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  20. Tao, C. et al. Spatially resolving edge states of chiral graphene nanoribbons. Nature Phys. 7, 616–620 (2011)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Li, Y. et al. Electronic and magnetic properties of zigzag graphene nanoribbons on the (111) Surface of Cu, Ag, and Au. Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 216804 (2013)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  22. Yazyev, O. et al. Theory of magnetic states in chiral graphene nanoribbons. Phys. Rev. B 84, 115406 (2011)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  23. Mashoff, T. et al. Bistability and oscillatory motion of natural nanomembranes appearing within monolayer graphene on silicon dioxide. Nano Lett. 10, 461–465 (2010)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Wassmann, T. et al. Structure, stability, edge states, and aromaticity of graphene ribbons. Phys. Rev. Lett. 101, 096402 (2008)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  25. Wang, W. L. et al. Graphene nanoflakes with large spin. Nano Lett. 8, 241–245 (2008)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Edwards, D. M. &. Katsnelson, M. I. High-temperature ferromagnetism of sp electrons in narrow impurity bands. J. Phys. Condens. Matter 18, 7209–7225 (2006)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Joly, V. L. J. et al. Observation of magnetic edge state in graphene nanoribbons. Phys. Rev. B 81, 245428 (2010)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  28. Chen, L. et al. Towards intrinsic magnetism of graphene sheets with irregular zigzag edges. Sci. Rep. 3, 2599 (2013)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Červenka, J. et al. Room-temperature ferromagnetism in graphite driven by two-dimensional networks of point defects. Nature Phys. 5, 840–844 (2009)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  30. Jung, J. Nonlocal exchange effects in zigzag-edge magnetism of neutral graphene nanoribbons. Phys. Rev. B 83, 165415 (2011)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  31. Golor, M. et al. Quantum Monte Carlo studies of edge magnetism in chiral graphene nanoribbon. Phys. Rev. B 87, 155441 (2013)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  32. Kresse, G. & Hafner, J. Ab initio molecular-dynamics simulation of the liquid-metal–amorphous-semiconductor transition in germanium. Phys. Rev. B 49, 14251 (1994)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. Kresse, G. & Furthmüller, J. Efficient iterative schemes for ab initio total-energy calculations using a plane-wave basis set. Phys. Rev. B 54, 11169 (1996)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Kresse, G. & Joubert, D. From ultrasoft pseudopotentials to the projector augmented-wave method. Phys. Rev. B 59, 1758 (1999)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. Blöchl, P. E. Projector augmented-wave method. Phys. Rev. B 50, 17953 (1994)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  36. Tang, M. S. et al. Environment-dependent tight-binding potential model. Phys. Rev. B 53, 979 (1996); erratum. 54, 10982 (1996)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


The experimental work was conducted within the framework of the Korea Hungary Joint Laboratory for Nanosciences through the Korean Research Council of Fundamental Science and Technology and the “Lendület” programme of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. L.T. acknowledges OTKA grant K108753 and the Bolyai Fellowship. L.P.B. acknowledges OTKA grant K101599. C.H. is supported in part by the Nano·Material Technology Development Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (2012M3A7B4049888). I.H. was supported by the European Union and the State of Hungary, co-financed by the European Social Fund in the framework of the TÁMOP-4.2.4.A/ 2-11/1-2012-0001 National Excellence Program and OTKA grant K100908. I.H. acknowledges discussions with K. Itai. L.T and P.V. acknowledge discussions with Y.-S. Kim.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



L.T. and C.H conceived and designed the experiments. G.Z.M. performed the lithography and STM experiments. I.H. and P.V. provided the theoretical results. X.J. and C.H. performed the graphene growth experiments. Z.O. and P.N.-I. carried out preliminary experiments. L.T., P.V., I.H., G.Z.M. and L.P.B. analysed the data. L.T. wrote the paper. All the authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Levente Tapasztó.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 The structure of graphene edges defined by STM lithography.

a, STM image (5 mV, 2 nA) of 15-nm-long edge segments cut by STM lithography, revealing edges that are close to atomically smooth (<5 Å edge roughness) free of detectable reconstructions, contaminations or curvature. b, The increased local density of states on zigzag edges observed under specific imaging conditions (200 mV, 2 nA) can be attributed to the presence of edge states that rule out the possibility of sp3-type edge terminations (for example, di-hydrogenated edges), because no edge states are expected to occur for such edge configurations.

Extended Data Figure 2 Scanning tunnelling spectroscopy of graphene nanoribbons on Au (111).

Tunnelling IV characteristics acquired on a 5-nm-wide armchair ribbon (a) displaying nonlinear IV spectra corresponding to a gap of about 250 meV (b). Outside the ribbon a close-to-linear characteristic of the unpatterned graphene is revealed (c). The blue triangle and yellow square mark the positions of the corresponding tunnelling spectra. The insets show the schematics of STM lithography (a), and the differential tunnelling conductance (dI/dV) obtained as numerical derivatives of the measured IV curves (b and c). The 70-mV shift of the Dirac point (curve minimum) from the Fermi level (zero bias) observed on graphene (inset to c) is due to the doping from the Au(111) substrate and the ambient atmosphere.

Extended Data Figure 3 The effect of edge irregularities on edge magnetism.

Calculated spin density distribution in the unit cell of a 3.3-nm-wide zigzag ribbon with a high density of atomic-scale defects, revealing the substantial decrease of the emerging spin polarization (to about a third of that of defect-free zigzag edges). The experimental width dependence can be fitted for defective ribbon edges by using higher values of the on-site repulsion parameter of U = 4.32 eV.

Extended Data Figure 4 Individual tunnelling IV spectra.

Tunnelling IV characteristics recorded on various ribbons (the spectra have been shifted along the vertical axis for clarity). Each individual spectrum was recorded as the average of ten voltage sweeps between −500 mV and +500 mV. The metallic (close to linear) or semiconducting (strongly nonlinear) nature of the ribbons is clearly apparent from the individual tunnelling I–V characteristics.

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Magda, G., Jin, X., Hagymási, I. et al. Room-temperature magnetic order on zigzag edges of narrow graphene nanoribbons. Nature 514, 608–611 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


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.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing