Reversible optical switching of antiferromagnetism in TbMnO3

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Lasers can be used to control the magnetization of a ferromagnet via optically driven thermal and electronic excitation1,2,3,4,5. Transfer of this concept to antiferromagnets is appealing because of the increasing technological interest in antiferromagnetism6. Controlling spin structures in antiferromagnets is challenging, however, because of their zero magnetization. In a proof-of-principle experiment we demonstrate that optical control of antiferromagnetic domains is nevertheless possible. We reverse the antiferromagnetic order parameter in multiferroic TbMnO3 repeatedly, using light pulses of two different colours. Switching depends on a unique relation between the wavelength of the light, its optical absorption and the electric polarization field induced by the antiferromagnetic order of TbMnO3. We then demonstrate sequential laser-controlled writing and erasure of antiferromagnetic domains. The universality of reversible optical antiferromagnetic switching is derived by Monte Carlo simulations. Opto-magnetism is thus complemented by an important degree of freedom, namely local control of antiferromagnetism by means of light.

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Figure 1: Optical reversal of an antiferromagnetic domain state.
Figure 2: Reversible optical switching of an antiferromagnetic state.
Figure 3: Monte Carlo simulation of reversible two-colour switching.
Figure 4: Sequential optical writing and erasure of an antiferromagnetic domain pattern.


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The authors thank C. Becher for technical advice and M. Trassin for discussions. The work at ETH was supported by funding through the Swiss National Science Foundation (grants nos. 200021_147080/1 and 200021_144115). T.K. was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (grant no. 24244058).

Author information

S.M. designed and conducted the experiments, assisted by J.B. M.M. performed the initial investigation and discovered the optically induced order parameter reversal, based on which S.M. and D.M. devised the concept of reversible optical switching. T.L. performed the Monte Carlo simulations. A.I. and T.K. provided the samples. All authors discussed the results. The manuscript was written by S.M., D.M., M.M. and M.F. The work was supervised by D.M., M.M. and M.F.

Correspondence to Sebastian Manz.

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Manz, S., Matsubara, M., Lottermoser, T. et al. Reversible optical switching of antiferromagnetism in TbMnO3. Nature Photon 10, 653–656 (2016) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2016.146

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