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.

Deterministic switching of ferromagnetism at room temperature using an electric field


The technological appeal of multiferroics is the ability to control magnetism with electric field1,2,3. For devices to be useful, such control must be achieved at room temperature. The only single-phase multiferroic material exhibiting unambiguous magnetoelectric coupling at room temperature is BiFeO3 (refs 4 and 5). Its weak ferromagnetism arises from the canting of the antiferromagnetically aligned spins by the Dzyaloshinskii–Moriya (DM) interaction6,7,8,9. Prior theory considered the symmetry of the thermodynamic ground state and concluded that direct 180-degree switching of the DM vector by the ferroelectric polarization was forbidden10,11. Instead, we examined the kinetics of the switching process, something not considered previously in theoretical work10,11,12. Here we show a deterministic reversal of the DM vector and canted moment using an electric field at room temperature. First-principles calculations reveal that the switching kinetics favours a two-step switching process. In each step the DM vector and polarization are coupled and 180-degree deterministic switching of magnetization hence becomes possible, in agreement with experimental observation. We exploit this switching to demonstrate energy-efficient control of a spin-valve device at room temperature. The energy per unit area required is approximately an order of magnitude less than that needed for spin-transfer torque switching13,14. Given that the DM interaction is fundamental to single-phase multiferroics and magnetoelectrics3,9, our results suggest ways to engineer magnetoelectric switching and tailor technologically pertinent functionality for nanometre-scale, low-energy-consumption, non-volatile magnetoelectronics.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Two-step polarization switching.
Figure 2: Magnetoelectric switching path.
Figure 3: Magnetization reversal by electric field.
Figure 4: Magnetoelectric devices.


  1. Spaldin, N. A. & Fiebig, M. The renaissance of magnetoelectric multiferroics. Science 309, 391–392 (2005)

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Eerenstein, W., Mathur, N. D. & Scott, J. F. Multiferroic and magnetoelectric materials. Nature 442, 759–765 (2006)

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Fiebig, M. Revival of the magnetoelectric effect. J. Phys. D 38, R123–R152 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Scott, J. F. Room-temperature multiferroic magnetoelectrics. NPG Asia Mater. 5, e72 (2013)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Wang, J. et al. Epitaxial BiFeO3 multiferroic thin film heterostructures. Science 299, 1719–1722 (2003)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Dzyaloshinskii, I. E. Thermodynamic theory of weak ferromagnetism in antiferromagnetic substances. Sov. Phys. JETP 5, 1259–1262 (1957)

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  7. Moriya, T. Anisotropic superexchange interaction and weak ferromagnetism. Phys. Rev. 120, 91–98 (1960)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Cheong, S.-W. & Mostovoy, M. Multiferroics: a magnetic twist for ferroelectricity. Nature Mater. 6, 13–20 (2007)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Sergienko, I. A. & Dagotto, E. Role of Dzyaloshinskii-Moryia interaction in multiferroic perovskites. Phys. Rev. B 73, 094434 (2006)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Ederer, C. & Fennie, C. J. Electric-field switchable magnetization via the Dzyaloshiskii-Moriya interaction: FeTiO3 versus BiFeO3 . J. Phys. Condens. Matter 20, 434219 (2008)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Ederer, C. & Spaldin, N. A. Weak ferromagnetism and magnetoelectric coupling in bismuth ferrite. Phys. Rev. B 71, 060401(R) (2005)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Fennie, C. J. Ferroelectrically induced weak ferromagnetism by design. Phys. Rev. Lett. 100, 167203 (2008)

    ADS  Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Liu, H. et al. Ultrafast switching in magnetic tunnel junction based orthogonal spin transfer devices. Appl. Phys. Lett. 97, 242510 (2010)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Rowlands, G. E. et al. Deep subnanosecond spin torque switching in magnetic tunnel junctions with combined in-plane and perpendicular polarizers. Appl. Phys. Lett. 98, 102509 (2011)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Fusil, S., Garcia, V., Barthélémy, A. & Bibes, M. Magnetoelectric devices for spintronics. Annu. Rev. Mater. Res. 44, 91–116 (2014)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Evans, D. M. et al. Magnetic switching of ferroelectric domains at room temperature in multiferroic PZTFT. Nature Commun. 4, 1534 (2013)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Belik, A. A. et al. Neutron powder diffraction study on the crystal and magnetic structures of BiCoO3 . Chem. Mater. 18, 798 (2006)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Li, M.-R. et al. A polar corundum oxide displaying weak ferromagnetism at room temperature. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 134, 3737–3747 (2012)

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Wang, W. et al. Room temperature multiferroic hexagonal LuFeO3 films. Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 237601 (2013)

    ADS  PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Benedek, N. A. & Fennie, C. J. Hybrid improper ferroelectricity: a mechanism for controllable polarization–magnetization coupling. Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 107204 (2011)

    ADS  Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Zanolli, Z., Wojdeł, J. C., Íñiguez, J. & Ghosez, P. Electric control of magnetization in BiFeO3/LaFeO3 superlattices. Phys. Rev. B 88, 060102(R) (2013)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Yang, Y., Íñiguez, J., Mao, A.-J. & Bellaiche, L. Prediction of a novel magnetoelectric switching mechanism in multiferroics. Phys. Rev. Lett. 112, 057202 (2014)

    ADS  Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Lebeugle, D., Mougin, A., Viret, M., Colson, D. & Ranno, L. Electric field switching of the magnetic anisotropy of ferromagnetic layer exchange coupled to the multiferroic compound BiFeO3 . Phys. Rev. Lett. 103, 257601 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Heron, J. T. et al. Electric-field-induced magnetization reversal in a ferromagnet-multiferroic heterostructure. Phys. Rev. Lett. 107, 217202 (2011)

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

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

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. Rado, G., Ferrari, J. & Maisch, W. Magnetoelectric susceptibility and magnetic symmetry of magnetoelectrically annealed TbPO4 . Phys. Rev. B 29, 4041–4048 (1984)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Hur, N. et al. Electric polarization reversal and memory in multiferroic material induced by magnetic fields. Nature 429, 392–395 (2004)

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Eerenstein, W., Wiora, M., Prieto, J. L., Scott, J. F. & Mathur, N. D. Giant sharp and persistent converse magnetoelectric effects in multiferroic epitaxial heterostructures. Nature Mater. 6, 348–351 (2007)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Zhang, S. et al. Electric-field control of nonvolatile magnetization in Co40Fe40B20/Pb(Mg1/3Nb2/3)0. 7Ti0. 3O3 structure at room temperature. Phys. Rev. Lett. 108, 137203 (2012)

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. Cherifi, R. O. et al. Electric-field control of magnetic order above room temperature. Nature Mater. 13, 345–351 (2014)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Chu, Y. H. et al. Nanoscale control of domain architectures in BiFeO3 thin films. Nano Lett. 9, 1726–1730 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Huey, B. D., Nath, R., Lee, S. & Polomoff, N. A. High speed SPM applied for direct nanoscale mapping of the influence of defects on ferroelectric switching dynamics. J. Am. Ceram. Soc. 95, 1147–1162 (2012)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Desmarais, J. et al. Mapping and statistics of ferroelectric domain boundary angles and types. Appl. Phys. Lett. 99, 162902 (2011)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

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

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Perdew, J. P. et al. Restoring the density-gradient expansion for exchange in solids and surfaces. Phys. Rev. Lett. 100, 136406 (2008)

    ADS  Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Dudarev, S. L., Botton, G. A., Savrasov, S. Y., Humphreys, C. J. & Sutton, A. P. Electron-energy-loss spectra and the structural stability of nickel oxide: an LSDA+U study. Phys. Rev. B 57, 1505 (1998)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

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

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  38. Diéguez, O., González-Vázquez, O. E., Wojdeł, J. C. & Íñiguez, J. First-principles predictions of low-energy phases of multiferroic BiFeO3 . Phys. Rev. B 83, 094105 (2011)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  39. Mills, G., Jonsson, H. & Schenter, G. K. Reversible work transition state theory: application to dissociative adsorption of hydrogen. Surf. Sci. 324, 305 (1995)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Sheppard, D., Xiao, P., Chemelewski, W., Johnson, D. D. & Henkelman, G. A generalized solid-state nudged elastic band method. J. Chem. Phys. 136, 074103 (2012)

    ADS  PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  41. Chu, Y. H. et al. Electric-field control of local ferromagnetism using a magnetoelectric multiferroic. Nature Mater. 7, 478–482 (2008)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Zhao, T. et al. Electrical control of antiferromagnetic domains in multiferroic BiFeO3 films at room temperature. Nature Mater. 5, 823–829 (2006)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Baek, S. H. et al. Ferroelastic switching for nanoscale non-volatile magnetoelectric devices. Nature Mater. 9, 309–314 (2010)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Hunter, D. et al. Giant magnetostriction in annealed Co1 − xFex thin-films. Nature Commun. 2, 518 (2011)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  45. Radaelli, G. et al. Electric control of magnetism at the Fe/BaTiO3 interface. Nature Commun. 5, 3404 (2014)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Maruyama, T. et al. Large voltage-induced magnetic anisotropy change in a few atomic layers of iron. Nature Nanotechnol. 4, 158–161 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Wang, W.-G., Li, M., Hageman, S. & Chien, C. L. Electric-field-assisted switching in magnetic tunnel junctions. Nature Mater. 11, 64–68 (2011)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  48. Couet, S. et al. Electric field-induced oxidation of ferromagnetic/ferroelectric interfaces. Adv. Funct. Mater. 24, 71 (2014)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Ramesh, R. et al. Fatigue and retention in ferroelectric Y-Ba-Cu-O/Pb-Zr-Ti-O/Y-Ba-Cu-O heterostructures. Appl. Phys. Lett. 61, 1537 (1992)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Wu, S. M. et al. Reversible electric control of exchange bias in a multiferroic field-effect device. Nature Mater. 9, 756–761 (2010)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Yu, P. et al. Interface ferromagnetism and orbital reconstruction in heterostructures. Phys. Rev. Lett. 105, 027201 (2010)

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. Binek, C. & Doudin, B. Magnetoelectronics with magnetoelectrics. J. Phys. Condens. Matter 17, L39–L44 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Béa, H., Gajek, M., Bibes, M. & Barthélémy, A. Spintronics with multiferroics. J. Phys. Condens. Matter 20, 434221 (2008)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  54. Liu, L. et al. Spin-torque switching with the giant spin Hall effect of Ta. Science 336, 555 (2012)

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. Chu, Y. H. et al. Low voltage performance of epitaxial BiFeO3 films on Si substrates through La substitution. Appl. Phys. Lett. 92, 102909 (2008)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  56. Trassin, M. et al. Interfacial coupling in multiferroic/ferromagnet heterostructures. Phys. Rev. B 87, 134426 (2013)

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Translational Applications of Nanoscale Multiferroic Systems) under grant number EEC-1160504 and the DOD-ARO MURI supported by the Army Research Office through agreement number W911NF-08-2-0032 and partially by the FENA-FAME and NSF/MRSEC (DMR-1120296), through the Cornell Center for Materials Research, programs. J.I. acknowledges financial support from MINECO-Spain (grant numbers MAT2010-18113 and CSD2007-00041). J.L.B., L.Y. and B.D.H. acknowledge support from the DOE ESPM (grant number DE-SC0005037). The Advanced Light Source is supported by the Director, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, of the US Department of Energy under contract number DE-AC02-05CH11231. We thank C. Fennie for discussions, C. Zollner for the figure edits, and H. Nair, G. Stiehl and N. Dawley for their comments on the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



J.T.H. designed and, with M.T., D.C.R., D.G.S. and R.R., directed the study, analysed results, and wrote the manuscript. J.L.B. and L.Y. performed the time-dependent PFM measurements. J.L.B. and B.D.H. analysed the results. Q.H. and J.L. performed the XMCD measurements and provided analysis. Y.G. and M.T. grew the BiFeO3/SrRuO3 bilayers. J.D.C. aided in device fabrication. C.W. aided in the measurement and analysis of the spin-valve devices. J.I. performed the ab initio calculations. S.S. evaluated the transport results. J.T.H., M.T., C.W., S.S., D.C.R., D.G.S., J.I., B.D.H. and R.R. all made contributions to writing the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. T. Heron.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 PFM rotational dependence after partial switching.

Schematics of the PFM tip and the possible polarization components measured for 0° (a) and 90° (b) (that is, the [010] and [100] directions, respectively), as well as the corresponding vertical and lateral PFM images upon partial switching. c, Schematic of polarization directions and vector PFM images taken before (left) and after partial switching (right). All scale bars are 400 nm.

Extended Data Figure 2 Compositions of the first and overall switching directions under positive and negative PFM tip bias.

a, Compositions under positive tip bias, which switches the initial or as-grown state. b, Under negative PFM tip bias, which switches the final state of a back into an initial configuration. OOP, out of plane; IP, in plane.

Extended Data Figure 3 Ab initio calculations of the BiFeO3 system under the constraint of a (110) DyScO3 substrate.

No consideration of the multidomain structure or the influence from an unswitched BiFeO3 matrix is given. a, The lowest-energy switching path calculated for a direct (one-step) 180° switch. A large energy separates the direct reversal of the polarization (black curve, top panel), described here as the Bi3+ shift (middle panel). The Bi3+ shift reverses following a trajectory directly through zero shift (that is, zero polarization). The O6-octahedral rotation (lower panel) remains unperturbed by the direct switch. Black, blue and red curves indicate orthogonal components (x1, x2, and x3) of Bi3+ displacement and O6-octahedral rotation in the reference cell. b, The lowest-energy switching path for polarization reversal calculated from all possible switching paths is a three-step sequence of sequential ferroelastic 71° switches. In this case the shift of the O6-octahedral rotation parallels the changes made by the polarization (Bi3+ displacement), leading to the reversal of the polarization, octahedral rotation and thus, the weak ferromagnetic moment of BiFeO3.

Extended Data Figure 4 Ab initio calculations of the Fe displacement in single- and two-step switching events.

Fe3+ displacements for the single-step and two-step switching events shown in, and plotted with the data from, Fig. 2a. In each case, the Fe3+ shift mimics the Bi3+ shift; however, the Fe3+ shifts are smaller than those for Bi3+. a.u., arbitrary units. f.u., formula units.

Extended Data Figure 5 Domain configuration during switching process.

A vector PFM image obtained partially through the switching process. Throughout the entire switching process, and in this image, (dark blue) domains only touch (orange) and (light blue) domains; the other polarization directions behave analogously. Scale bar is 500 nm.

Extended Data Figure 6 In-plane and out-of-plane PFM images of the boundary between switched and as-grown (initial) regions.

The arrows indicate the in-plane and out-of-plane (inset) components of the polarizations. The domain walls across the boundary appear to be continuous, suggesting that the unswitched matrix (as-grown region) has an influence on the final polarization and domain states. Scale bar is 500 nm.

Extended Data Figure 7 Magnetic hysteresis curves from BiFeO3/Co0.9Fe0.1 (2.5 nm) and BiFeO3/SrTiO3 (1 nm)/Co0.9Fe0.1 (2.5 nm) heterostructures.

a, Schematic of the BiFeO3/Co0.9Fe0.1 heterostructure with the directions of the net in-plane polarization (Pnet IP, the vector sum of the (001)p surface projections of the two polarization variants) and a 200 Oe magnetic field (Hgrowth) applied during the deposition of the Co0.9Fe0.1. The growth field was used to test the strength of the coupling to BiFeO3, given that the growth field should attempt to induce a uniaxial anisotropy in that direction. Magnetic hysteresis loops taken along different in-plane angles rotating from the direction of the growth field show that despite the growth field the easy axis is found to parallel the axis set by Pnet IP. b, Schematic of an experimental configuration similar to that in a; however, a 1-nm-thick layer of insulating and non-magnetic SrTiO3 has been deposited onto the BiFeO3 before the deposition of Co0.9Fe0.1. The magnetic loops from the BiFeO3/SrTiO3/Co0.9Fe0.1 heterostructure are plotted in blue and have a uniaxial anisotropy in the direction of the growth field (orthogonal to the axis set by Pnet IP) with reduced strength (lower saturation and switching fields) compared to those obtained from the BiFeO3/Co0.9Fe0.1 heterostructure in a (red curves).

Extended Data Figure 8 Null electric-field control of magnetism measurement on a BiFeO3/SrTiO3 (1 nm)/Co0.9Fe0.1 (2.5 nm) heterostructure.

a, Anisotropic magnetoresistance obtained from the BiFeO3/SrTiO3/Co0.9Fe0.1 heterostructure taken at 20 Oe after the corresponding electric field was applied. No change in the phase of the anisotropic magnetoresistance curves was observed, indicating no switching of the magnetization.

Extended Data Figure 9 Description of the magnetoresistance in relation to the domain structure of the unpinned (not in contact with BiFeO3) and pinned (in contact with BiFeO3) Co0.9Fe0.1 layers.

As the magnetic field is swept from positive to negative field (open purple circles) along the easy axis of the device the domain structure of the pinned layer evolves from single-domain to a stripe-like structure and back to single-domain. The numbers correlate to the schematics of the domain structures to the spin-valve resistance. At large, positive magnetic field the free and pinned layers are monodomain with magnetizations parallel (1, light blue box) and the device resistance is low. At low, positive magnetic field the pinned layer breaks up into two domain variants owing to the exchange coupling with BiFeO3 while the free layer remains largely monodomain (2, black box). Both net magnetizations are parallel but the device resistance increases due to domain formation in the pinned layer. The purple box (3) encloses the region of magnetic field where the unpinned layer breaks up into domains during switching and the device resistance increases rapidly. In box 4 (red) the net magnetizations of the two layers are antiparallel but not fully antiparallel as the pinned layer is broken into domains and the device resistance is high. At high, negative magnetic field the device is again in a low-resistance state and the two layers are monodomain with parallel magnetization. A similar evolution of the domain structure occurs as the magnetic field is increased from negative to positive values (open red circles).

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Heron, J., Bosse, J., He, Q. et al. Deterministic switching of ferromagnetism at room temperature using an electric field. Nature 516, 370–373 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

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.


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