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Magnetoelectric coupling at metal surfaces


Magnetoelectric coupling allows the magnetic state of a material to be changed by an applied electric field. To date, this phenomenon has mainly been observed in insulating materials such as complex multiferroic oxides. Bulk metallic systems do not exhibit magnetoelectric coupling, because applied electric fields are screened by conduction electrons. We demonstrate strong magnetoelectric coupling at the surface of thin iron films using the electric field from a scanning tunnelling microscope, and are able to write, store and read information to areas with sides of a few nanometres. Our work demonstrates that high-density, non-volatile information storage is possible in metals.

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Figure 1: Simulations of surface relaxations under the influence of an electric field in Fe/Cu(111).
Figure 2: Crystallographic and electronic structure of Fe islands.
Figure 3: Controlled switching with electric fields.
Figure 4: Controlling fcc versus bcc structures with the local electric field.


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This work was supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the CNCSIS-UEFISCSU and the Sonderforschungsbereich SFB 762, ‘Functionality of Oxidic Interfaces’. The authors thank P.J. Kelly for careful reading of the manuscript, and H.L. Meyerheim, Z. Szotek and W.M. Temmerman for many stimulating discussions. A.E. thanks V.M. Kuznetsov and T.A. Shabunina for their help and support during his stay at the Tomsk State University. Calculations were performed at the John von Neumann Institute in Jülich and Rechenzentrum Garching of the Max Planck Society (Germany).

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L.G., T.K.Y. and W.W. conceived and designed the experiments. L.G., T.B., A.F.T. and R.J.H.W. performed the experiments. L.G., R.J.H.W. and T.K.Y. analysed the data. A.E., I.M. and S.O. designed the calculations. A.E., S.O. and M.D. performed the calculations. M.F. and M.D. contributed analysis tools. A.E., L.G., I.M. and W.W. co-wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to W. Wulfhekel.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Gerhard, L., Yamada, T., Balashov, T. et al. Magnetoelectric coupling at metal surfaces. Nature Nanotech 5, 792–797 (2010).

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