Atomic-scale sensing of the magnetic dipolar field from single atoms


Spin resonance provides the high-energy resolution needed to determine biological and material structures by sensing weak magnetic interactions1. In recent years, there have been notable achievements in detecting2 and coherently controlling3,4,5,6,7 individual atomic-scale spin centres for sensitive local magnetometry8,9,10. However, positioning the spin sensor and characterizing spin–spin interactions with sub-nanometre precision have remained outstanding challenges11,12. Here, we use individual Fe atoms as an electron spin resonance (ESR) sensor in a scanning tunnelling microscope to measure the magnetic field emanating from nearby spins with atomic-scale precision. On artificially built assemblies of magnetic atoms (Fe and Co) on a magnesium oxide surface, we measure that the interaction energy between the ESR sensor and an adatom shows an inverse-cube distance dependence (r−3.01±0.04). This demonstrates that the atoms are predominantly coupled by the magnetic dipole–dipole interaction, which, according to our observations, dominates for atom separations greater than 1 nm. This dipolar sensor can determine the magnetic moments of individual adatoms with high accuracy. The achieved atomic-scale spatial resolution in remote sensing of spins may ultimately allow the structural imaging of individual magnetic molecules, nanostructures and spin-labelled biomolecules.

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Figure 1: Experimental set-up for ESR–STM.
Figure 2: Magnetic dipole–dipole interaction.
Figure 3: Control of state degeneracy in an engineered nanostructure.
Figure 4: Magnetic imaging by using trilateration.


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The authors thank B. Melior for expert technical assistance and T. Greber for fruitful discussions. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Office of Naval Research. W.P. thanks the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for fellowship support. A.J.M. acknowledges financial support from the NSERC CREATE and PGS D programmes. F.D.N. appreciates financial support from the Swiss National Science Foundation (P300P2_158468 and PZ00P2_167965). K.Y. thanks the National Natural Science Foundation of China grant no. 61471337) for financial support. P.W. and S.R. gratefully acknowledge financial support from the German academic exchange service.

Author information

T.C., W.P., C.P.L. and A.J.H. conceived the projects. T.C., W.P., S.R., A.J.M. and F.D.N. performed the experiments and analysed the data. T.C. wrote the manuscript and developed theoretical models and simulations. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Correspondence to Christopher P. Lutz or Andreas J. Heinrich.

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Choi, T., Paul, W., Rolf-Pissarczyk, S. et al. Atomic-scale sensing of the magnetic dipolar field from single atoms. Nature Nanotech 12, 420–424 (2017).

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