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Ultrafast nonthermal photo-magnetic recording in a transparent medium


Discovering ways to control the magnetic state of media with the lowest possible production of heat and at the fastest possible speeds is important in the study of fundamental magnetism1,2,3,4,5, with clear practical potential. In metals, it is possible to switch the magnetization between two stable states (and thus to record magnetic bits) using femtosecond circularly polarized laser pulses6,7,8. However, the switching mechanisms in these materials are directly related to laser-induced heating close to the Curie temperature9,10,11,12. Although several possible routes for achieving all-optical switching in magnetic dielectrics have been discussed13,14, no recording has hitherto been demonstrated. Here we describe ultrafast all-optical photo-magnetic recording in transparent films of the dielectric cobalt-substituted garnet. A single linearly polarized femtosecond laser pulse resonantly pumps specific dd transitions in the cobalt ions, breaking the degeneracy between metastable magnetic states. By changing the polarization of the laser pulse, we deterministically steer the net magnetization in the garnet, thus writing ‘0’ and ‘1’ magnetic bits at will. This mechanism outperforms existing alternatives in terms of the speed of the write–read magnetic recording event (less than 20 picoseconds) and the unprecedentedly low heat load (less than 6 joules per cubic centimetre).

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Figure 1: Magnetic states and domain structure of YIG:Co.
Figure 2: Single-pulse photo-magnetic recording.
Figure 3: Energy efficiency of the all-optical magnetic recording.
Figure 4: Time-resolved all-optical magnetic switching as observed by femtosecond single-shot imaging.

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We acknowledge support from the National Science Centre Poland (grant DEC-2013/09/B/ST3/02669), the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement No. 257280 (Femtomagnetism) and the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter. We thank A. Chizhik and A. M. Kalashnikova for discussions, S. Semin for technical assistance as well as A. Maziewski and Th. Rasing for continuous support.

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Authors and Affiliations



A.S. conceived the project with contributions from A.K. and A.V.K. The imaging and time-resolved magnetization precession were performed by K.S. D.A. developed femtosecond single-shot imaging and performed time-resolved imaging together with K.S. A.S. and A.V.K. co-wrote the manuscript with contributions from A.K., K.S. and D.A. The project was coordinated by A.S.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to A. Stupakiewicz or A. V. Kimel.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Spectral dependence of the absorption coefficient of YIG:Co film.

Extended Data Figure 2 Schematics of the time-resolved magnetization dynamics and single shot imaging.

The inset shows the magneto-optical visualization of the magnetic domains formed by a single laser pulse excitation of YIG:Co.

Extended Data Figure 3 Time-resolved magnetization precession induced by the femtosecond pump pulses in YIG:Co film.

The out-of-plane component of the magnetization Mz is detected with the help of time-resolved magneto-optical Faraday rotation. a, The left axis shows the laser-induced magnetization precession for the case when the light is polarized along the [100] orientation and the magnetization is in either the M(L)+ or in the M(L)− state. The right axis shows the domain structure and the spots in which the dependences shown on the left panel were measured. b, Dependence of the precession amplitude on the pump polarization M(L)+ domain. The solid line is a fit to the cos(2φ) function. c, The dynamics measured at different pump fluences I in the range 7.4–61 mJ cm−2. The pump polarization was in the [100] direction. The inset shows the linear dependence of the precession amplitude on the pump fluence.

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Stupakiewicz, A., Szerenos, K., Afanasiev, D. et al. Ultrafast nonthermal photo-magnetic recording in a transparent medium. Nature 542, 71–74 (2017).

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