Letter | Published:

Layer-dependent ferromagnetism in a van der Waals crystal down to the monolayer limit

Nature volume 546, pages 270273 (08 June 2017) | Download Citation


Since the discovery of graphene1, the family of two-dimensional materials has grown, displaying a broad range of electronic properties. Recent additions include semiconductors with spin–valley coupling2, Ising superconductors3,4,5 that can be tuned into a quantum metal6, possible Mott insulators with tunable charge-density waves7, and topological semimetals with edge transport8,9. However, no two-dimensional crystal with intrinsic magnetism has yet been discovered10,11,12,13,14; such a crystal would be useful in many technologies from sensing to data storage15. Theoretically, magnetic order is prohibited in the two-dimensional isotropic Heisenberg model at finite temperatures by the Mermin–Wagner theorem16. Magnetic anisotropy removes this restriction, however, and enables, for instance, the occurrence of two-dimensional Ising ferromagnetism. Here we use magneto-optical Kerr effect microscopy to demonstrate that monolayer chromium triiodide (CrI3) is an Ising ferromagnet with out-of-plane spin orientation. Its Curie temperature of 45 kelvin is only slightly lower than that of the bulk crystal, 61 kelvin, which is consistent with a weak interlayer coupling. Moreover, our studies suggest a layer-dependent magnetic phase, highlighting thickness-dependent physical properties typical of van der Waals crystals17,18,19. Remarkably, bilayer CrI3 displays suppressed magnetization with a metamagnetic effect20, whereas in trilayer CrI3 the interlayer ferromagnetism observed in the bulk crystal is restored. This work creates opportunities for studying magnetism by harnessing the unusual features of atomically thin materials, such as electrical control for realizing magnetoelectronics12, and van der Waals engineering to produce interface phenomena15.

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Work at the University of Washington was mainly supported by the Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division (DE-SC0008145 and SC0012509), and a University of Washington Innovation Award. Work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was supported by the Center for Integrated Quantum Materials under NSF grant DMR-1231319 as well as the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s EPiQS Initiative (grant GBMF4541 to P.J.-H.). Device fabrication was supported in part by the Center for Excitonics, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences under Award Number DESC0001088. D.H.C.’s contribution is supported by DE-SC0002197. Work at Carnegie Mellon University is supported by DOE BES DE-SC0012509. W.Y. is supported by the Croucher Foundation (Croucher Innovation Award), the RGC of Hong Kong (HKU17305914P), and the HKU ORA. Work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (M.A.M.) was supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division. X.X. and D.X. acknowledge the support of a Cottrell Scholar Award. X.X. acknowledges the support from the Clean Energy Institute (funded by the State of Washington) and from a Boeing Distinguished Professorship in Physics.

Author information

Author notes

    • Bevin Huang
    • , Genevieve Clark
    •  & Efrén Navarro-Moratalla

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Department of Physics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • Bevin Huang
    • , Kyle L. Seyler
    • , Ding Zhong
    • , Emma Schmidgall
    • , David H. Cobden
    •  & Xiaodong Xu
  2. Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • Genevieve Clark
    •  & Xiaodong Xu
  3. Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Efrén Navarro-Moratalla
    • , Dahlia R. Klein
    •  & Pablo Jarillo-Herrero
  4. Department of Physics, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA

    • Ran Cheng
    •  & Di Xiao
  5. Materials Science and Technology Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831, USA

    • Michael A. McGuire
  6. Department of Physics and Center of Theoretical and Computational Physics, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

    • Wang Yao


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X.X. and P.J.-H. supervised the project. E.N.-M. and M.A.M. synthesized and characterized the bulk CrI3 crystal. E.N.-M. and D.R.K. fabricated the samples and analysed the layer thickness, assisted by G.C. and B.H. B.H. built the MOKE setup with help from E.S. and D.Z. G.C. and B.H. performed the MOKE measurements, assisted by K.L.S. and E.N.-M. R.C., D.X. and W.Y. provided theoretical support. B.H., G.C., E.N.-M., X.X., P.J.-H., D.X. and D.H.C. wrote the paper with input from all authors. All authors discussed the results.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Pablo Jarillo-Herrero or Xiaodong Xu.

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