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Femtosecond control of electric currents in metallic ferromagnetic heterostructures


The idea to use not only the charge but also the spin of electrons in the operation of electronic devices has led to the development of spintronics, causing a revolution in how information is stored and processed. A novel advancement would be to develop ultrafast spintronics using femtosecond laser pulses. Employing terahertz (1012 Hz) emission spectroscopy and exploiting the spin–orbit interaction, we demonstrate the optical generation of electric photocurrents in metallic ferromagnetic heterostructures at the femtosecond timescale. The direction of the photocurrent is controlled by the helicity of the circularly polarized light. These results open up new opportunities for realizing spintronics in the unprecedented terahertz regime and provide new insights in all-optical control of magnetism.

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Figure 1: Experimental schematics and symmetry of the emitted terahertz radiation.
Figure 2: Role of symmetry breaking directionality for terahertz emission in Co (10 nm)/Pt (2 nm).
Figure 3: Amplitude of terahertz emission as a function of thickness of the Pt capping layer and fluence.


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The authors thank T. Toonen, A. van Etteger and S. Semin for technical support and A. Brataas, A. Kirilyuk, A.K. Zvezdin and V.V. Bel'kov for discussions. This work was supported by the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM), the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) grants no. 280555 (Go-Fast) and no. 281043 (FemtoSpin), projects no. Norte-070124-FEDER-000070 and no. FEDER-POCTI/0155, European Research Council grants no. 257280 (Femtomagnetism) and no. 339813 (Exchange), and the ‘Leading Scientist’ programme of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science (14.Z50.31.0034). J.D.C. acknowledges FCT grant no. SFRH/BD/7939/2011.

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T.J.H., R.V.M., J.D.C. and A.V.K. conceived the experiments. T.J.H. and R.V.M. designed and built the experimental set-up. T.J.H. performed the measurements and analysed the data with help from R.V.M. and A.V.K. J.D.C. fabricated and characterized the samples with help from E.P., J.V. and P.P.F. The theoretical formalisms were derived by T.J.H., R.V.M. and F.F., with contributions from Y.M., S.B. and A.V.K. T.J.H., R.V.M., F.F. and A.V.K. co-wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript. The project was coordinated by A.V.K.

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Correspondence to T. J. Huisman.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Huisman, T., Mikhaylovskiy, R., Costa, J. et al. Femtosecond control of electric currents in metallic ferromagnetic heterostructures. Nature Nanotech 11, 455–458 (2016).

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