Abstract
Magnetic monopoles have eluded experimental detection since their prediction nearly a century ago by Dirac^{1}. It was recently shown that classical analogues of these enigmatic particles can occur as excitations out of the topological ground state of a model magnetic system, dipolar spin ice^{2}. These quasiparticle excitations do not require a modification of Maxwell’s equations, but they do interact through Coulomb’s law and are of magnetic origin. Here, we present an experimentally measurable signature of monopole dynamics. In particular, we show that previous magnetic relaxation measurements in the spinice material Dy_{2}Ti_{2}O_{7} (ref. 3) can be interpreted entirely in terms of the diffusive motion of monopoles in the grand canonical ensemble, constrained by a network of ‘Dirac strings’ filling the quasiparticle vacuum. In a magnetic field, the topology of the network prevents charge flow in the steady state. Nevertheless, we demonstrate the existence of a monopole density gradient near the surface of an open system.
Main
Spinice systems^{4,5,6}, such as Dy_{2}Ti_{2}O_{7} and Ho_{2}Ti_{2}O_{7}, can be described by a cornersharing network of tetrahedra forming a pyrochlore lattice of localized magnetic moments, as shown in Fig. 1a. The pairwise interaction is made up of both exchange and dipolar terms
where the rareearth ions carry a moment of 10 Bohr magnetons, m≈10μ_{B}, r_{i j} is the distance between spins i and j and S_{i} is a spin of unit length. The coupling constants are on the 1 K energy scale; for example, for Dy_{2}Ti_{2}0_{7}, Jm^{2}≈3.72 K and D m^{2}≈1.41 K (ref. 7). These energy scales are 100 times smaller than the crystal field terms^{8} that confine the spins along the axis joining the centres of two adjoining tetrahedra. As a result, on the 1 K energy scale, the moments behave as Ising spins along this axis. Remarkably, within this Ising description, the longranged dipolar interactions are almost perfectly screened^{7,9} at low temperature, with the result that the lowenergy properties are almost identical to those of an effective frustrated nearestneighbour model with antiferromagnetic interactions^{10} of strength J_{eff}=(5D−J)m^{2}/3. This is equivalent to Pauling’s model for proton disorder in the cubic phase of ice^{11}, which has extensive groundstate entropy and violates the third law of thermodynamics^{6}. It successfully reproduces the thermodynamic behaviour of both ice^{12} and spin ice^{13} and describes the microscopic properties of the latter to a good approximation. The extensive set of spinice states satisfy the Bernal–Fowler ice rules^{14}: a 3d analogue of the sixvertex model with topological constraint consisting of two spins pointing into and two out of each tetrahedron (2 in–2 out), as shown in Fig. 1a. Flipping one spin breaks the constraint leaving neighbouring tetrahedra with 3 in–1 out and with 3 out–1 in, which constitute a pair of topological defects. Within the nearestneighbour model, creation of the defect pair costs energy 4 J_{eff}, whereas further spin flips can move the defects at zero energy cost. It has recently been shown^{2} that including the full dipolar Hamiltonian of equation (1) leads to an effective Coulombic interaction between the topological defects separated by distance r, μ_{0}q_{i}q_{j}/4πr, where μ_{0} is the permeability of free space, q_{i}=±q=±2m/a, and a is the distance between two vertices of the diamond lattice (see Fig. 1); that is, to a Coulomb gas of magnetic monopoles. Standard electromagnetic theory does allow for such excitations^{15}, which correspond to divergences in the magnetic intensity H, or magnetic moment M, rather than in the magnetic induction: ∇ · B=∇ ·(H+M)=0. On all length scales above the atomic scale, a 3 in–1 out defect seems to be a local sink in the magnetic moment and therefore a source of field lines in H. It can lower its energy by moving in the direction of an external field and therefore carries a positive magnetic charge^{16}. What is remarkable about spin ice is that it enables the deconfinement of these effective magnetic charges so that they occur in the bulk of the material on all scales, rather than just at the surfaces within a coarsegrained description^{15}. A twodimensional equivalent may exist in artificial spin ice, constituting arrays of nanoscale magnets^{17}.
Given the accessibility of these magnetic quasiparticles, the development of an experimental signature is of vital importance and interest. The ‘Stanford’ superconducting coil experiment^{2,18} could in principle detect the passage of a single magnetic quasiparticle, but this seems highly unlikely given that the charges have no mass and therefore have diffusive, rather than Newtonian dynamics. A more promising starting point is therefore to look for a monopole signal from magnetic relaxation of a macroscopic sample^{3,8,19}. The general dynamic behaviour of spin ice is illustrated in Fig. 2 by the magnetic relaxation time, as a function of temperature for Dy_{2}Ti_{2}O_{7} (ref. 3), taken from bulk susceptibility measurements. The energy scales discussed above give rise to different regimes: the timescale increases in the thermally activated hightemperature regime, entering a quasiplateau region below 12 K associated with quantum tunnelling processes^{8}, before experiencing a sharp upturn below 2 K. The spins are Isinglike below 12 K and the configuration evolves by quantum tunnelling through the crystal field barrier, whereas above this temperature higher crystal field levels are populated and the timescale drops markedly. The quantum tunnelling plateau regime can therefore be well represented by an Ising system with stochastic single spin dynamics and hence should be dominated by the creation and propagation of monopole objects. This is illustrated, in a first approximation, by comparing the data with an Arrhenius law τ=τ_{0} exp(2 J_{eff}/k_{B}T), as shown by the red curve in Fig. 2. The timescale τ_{0} is fixed by fitting to the experimental time at 4 K with J_{eff}=1.11 K, the value estimated for Dy_{2}Ti_{2}0_{7} (ref. 7). 2 J_{eff} is the energy cost of a single, free topological defect in the nearestneighbour approximation and is half that for a single spin flip. The calculation fits the data over the lowtemperature part of the quasiplateau region, where one expects a significant defect concentration without any double defects (4in or 4out), and gives surprisingly good qualitative agreement at lower temperature, as the concentration decreases. Although still in the tunnelling regime, the plateau region corresponds to high temperature for the effective Ising system. Good agreement here provides a stringent test and any theory not fitting must be discarded. The above expression clearly does a good job, enabling us to equate τ_{0} with the microscopic tunnelling time. This test therefore already provides very strong evidence for the fractionalization of magnetic charge^{2} and the diffusion of unconfined particles. However, this (or any other) Arrhenius function ultimately fails, underestimating the timescale at very low temperature: although it is possible to fit the data reasonably below 2 K by a single exponential function by varying the barrier height, simultaneous agreement along the plateau and at lower temperature is impossible. The role of the missing Coulomb interaction is therefore clear: although nonconfining, it must considerably increase the relaxation timescale by modifying the defect concentration and slowing down diffusion through the creation of locally bound pairs.
We have tested this idea by directly simulating a Coulomb gas of magnetically charged particles (monopoles), in the grand canonical ensemble, occupying the sites of the diamond lattice. The magnetic charge is taken as q_{i}=±q. In the grand canonical ensemble, the chemical potential is an independent variable, of which the value in the corresponding magnetic experiment is unknown. In a first series of simulations, we have estimated it numerically by calculating the difference between the Coulomb energy gained by creating a pair of neighbouring magnetic monopoles and that required to produce a pair of topological defects in the dipolar spinice model, with parameters taken from ref. 7, giving a configurationally averaged estimate μ/k_{B}=8.92 K. In a second series of simulations, μ was taken as the value required to reproduce the same defect concentration as in a simulation of dipolar spin ice at temperature T. Here, μ varied only by 3%, with the same mean value as in the first series, showing that our procedure is consistent. The chemical potential used is thus not a free parameter. As the Coulomb interaction is longranged, we treat a finite system using the Ewald summation method^{20,21}. The monopoles hop between nearestneighbour sites through the Metropolis Monte Carlo algorithm, giving diffusive dynamics, but with a further local constraint: in the spin model a 3 in–1 out topological defect can move at low energy cost by flipping one of the 3in spins, the direction of the outspin being barred by an energy barrier of 8 J_{eff}. An isolated monopole can therefore hop to only 3 out of 4 of its nearestneighbour sites, dictated by an oriented network of constrained trajectories similar to the ensemble of classical ‘Dirac string’^{2} of overturned dipoles^{15}. The positively charged monopoles move in one sense along the network, whereas the negative charges move in the opposite direction (see Fig. 1b). The network is dynamically rearranged through the evolution of the monopole configuration. The vacuum for monopoles in spin ice thus has an internal structure: the Dirac strings which, in the absence of monopoles, satisfy the ice rules at each vertex. This structure is manifest in the dynamics and influences the resulting timescales. In fact the characteristic timescale that we compare with experiment comes from the evolution of the network of Dirac strings rather than from the monopoles themselves. Indeed, the monopole autocorrelation time, as extracted from the monopole density–density correlation function (see, for example, ref. 22), turns out to be small for this range of temperature. We locally define the string network by an integer σ=±1, giving the orientation of the Dirac string along each bond of the diamond lattice, and define the autocorrelation function
where t is the Metropolis time and N is the number of bonds (up to N≈25,000). For the initial conditions, we take an ordered network with no monopoles, which we let evolve at temperature T until an equilibrium configuration is attained. This defines t=0. C(t) decays almost exponentially, with characteristic time, τ, that varies with temperature. To avoid initial transient effects, we define τ such that C(τ)=0.8. The time is reset to zero when C(t) decays beyond 0.01 and the process is repeated many times to give the configurationally averaged decay time. Figure 2 shows a comparison of our simulations with the experimental data of ref. 3. The Metropolis time is again scaled to the experimental time at 4 K and there is again no scale factor on the temperature axis. Data for fixed chemical potential are shown by the pink triangles, whereas data with μ varying are shown by the blue circles. There is a quantitative evolution of the simulation data compared to the nearestneighbour spinice model. Agreement between the experimental and numerical data now looks excellent, showing clearly that the experimental relaxation is due to the creation and proliferation of quasiparticle excitations that resemble classical monopoles in the magnetic intensity H. As the temperature increases, towards the end of the plateau region, a small systematic difference occurs. This is because the spin system can access double defects at finite energy cost, whereas this state corresponds to two like charges superimposed on the same site, which is excluded by the Coulomb interaction. The inset of Fig. 2 shows results at low temperature, illustrating in detail the extent of the improvement in comparison with experiment. Allowing the variation of μ provides a further evolution towards the experimental data, compared with that for fixed μ and the blue circles represent our best numerical results. We now have quantitative agreement between experiment and theory down to low temperature, showing that the Coulomb interactions are responsible for the nonArrhenius temperature dependence of the relaxation timescales. Differences remain at this level of comparison below 1 K, but to go further would require an even more detailed modelling of spin ice^{23} as well as complementary experimental measurements.
Finally we consider the response of monopoles to an external magnetic field, h, placed along one of the [100] directions. Applying such a field to a system for closedcircuit geometry (periodic boundaries), one might expect the development of a monopole current in the steady state^{16}. This is not the case, at least for the nearestneighbour model, where we find that a transient current decays rapidly to zero (see Fig. 3a). The passage of a positive charge in the direction of the field reorganizes the network of strings, leaving a wake behind it that can be followed either by a negative charge, or by a positive one moving against the field, with the result that the current stops. This is a dynamic rather than static effect and is not related to confinement of monopole pairs by the background magnetization^{2}. Reducing the temperature at finite field, the magnetization saturates around a critical temperature: a vestige of the Kasteleyn transition^{24}, which is unique to topologically constrained systems. Confinement occurs here, as the Zeeman energy outweighs the entropy gain of free monopoles. The transient currents suggest the development of charge separation in an open system. This is indeed the case despite the fact that monopole numbers are not conserved at open boundaries. Figure 3b shows the profile of positive charge density across a sample of size L, with open boundaries, for varying fields. There is a clear buildup of charge over a band of 4–5 lattice spacings, although including longrange interactions may lead to a quantitative change in this value. As the ratio T/h and the monopole density go to zero, the band narrows and the system forms a conventional layer of magnetic surface charge as one expects for any magnetically ordered system^{15}. In the absence of topological defects, the magnetization is conserved from one layer to another, so that a charge density profile manifests itself as a magnetization profile. The data here suggest charge buildup in a layer several nanometres thick, making it in principle a measurable effect.
References
Dirac, P. A. M. Quantised singularities in the electromagnetic field. Proc. R. Soc. A 133, 60–72 (1931).
Castelnovo, C., Moessner, R. & Sondhi, S. Magnetic monopoles in spin ice. Nature 451, 42–45 (2008).
Snyder, J. et al. Lowtemperature spin freezing in the Dy2Ti2O7 spin ice. Phys. Rev. B 69, 064414 (2004).
Harris, M. J., Bramwell, S. T., McMorrow, D. F., Zeiske, T. & Godfrey, K. W. Geometrical frustration in the ferromagnetic pyrochlore Ho2Ti2O7 . Phys. Rev. Lett. 79, 2554–2557 (1997).
Bramwell, S. T. & Gingras, M. J. P. Spin ice state in frustrated magnetic pyrochlore materials. Science 294, 1495–1501 (2001).
Bramwell, S. T., Gingras, M. J. P. & Holdsworth, P. C. W. Frustrated Spin Systems Ch. 7 (H. T. Diep, World Scientific, 2004).
den Hertog, B. C. & Gingras, M. J. P. Dipolar interactions and origin of spin ice in ising pyrochlore magnets. Phys. Rev. Lett. 84, 3430–3433 (2000).
Ehlers, G. et al. Dynamical crossover in ‘hot’ spin ice. J. Phys. Condens. Matter 15, L9–L15 (2003).
Isakov, S. V., Moessner, R. & Sondhi, S. Why spin ice obeys the ice rules. Phys. Rev. Lett. 95, 217201 (2005).
Anderson, P. W. Ordering and antiferromagnetism in ferrites. Phys. Rev. 102, 1008–1013 (1956).
Pauling, L. The structure and entropy of ice and of other crystals with some randomness of atomic arrangement. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 57, 2680–2684 (1935).
Giauque, W. F. & Stout, J. W. The entropy of water and the third law of thermodynamics. The heat capacity of ice from 15 to 273 K. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 58, 1144–1150 (1936).
Ramirez, A. P., Hayashi, A., Cava, R. J., Siddharthan, R. & Shastry, B. S. Zeropoint entropy in spin ice. Nature 399, 333–335 (1999).
Bernal, J. D. & Fowler, R. H. A theory of water and ionic solution, with particular reference to hydrogen and hydroxyl ions. J. Chem. Phys. 1, 515–548 (1933).
Jackson, J. D. Classical Electrodynamics Ch. 6.11–6.12 (Wiley, 1999).
Ryzhkin, I. A. Magnetic relaxation in rareearth oxide pyrochlores. J. Exp. Theory Phys. 101, 481–486 (2005).
Wang, R. F. et al. Artificial spin ice in a geometrically frustrated lattice of nanoscale ferromagnetic islands. Nature 439, 303–306 (2006).
Cabrera, B. First results from a superconductive detector for moving magnetic monopoles. Phys. Rev. Lett. 48, 1378–1381 (1982).
Matsuhira, K., Hinatsu, Y., Tenya, K. & Sakakibara, T. Low temperature magnetic properties of frustrated pyrochlore ferromagnets Ho2Sn2O7 and Ho2Ti2O7 . J. Phys. Condens. Matter 12, L649–L656 (2000).
de Leeuw, S. W., Perram, J. W. & Smith, E. R. Simulation of electrostatic systems in periodic boundary conditions. I. Lattice sums and dielectric constants. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. A 373, 27–56 (1980).
Frenkel, D. & Smit, B. Understanding Molecular Simulation: From Algorithms to Applications Ch. 12.1 (Academic, 2002).
Barrat, J.L. & Hansen, J.P. Basic Concepts for Simple Liquids Ch. 11 (CUP, 2003).
Yavors’kii, T., Fennell, T., Gingras, M. J. P. & Bramwell, S. T. Dy2Ti2O7 spin ice: A test case for emergent clusters in a frustrated magnet. Phys. Rev. Lett. 101, 037204 (2008).
Jaubert, L. D. C., Chalker, J. T., Holdsworth, P. C. W. & Moessner, R. A three dimensional Kasteleyn transition: Spin ice in a [100] field. Phys. Rev. Lett. 100, 067207 (2008).
Acknowledgements
We thank S. T. Bramwell, C. Castelnovo, J. T. Chalker, M. Clusel, M. J. P. Gingras and R. Melko for useful discussions and P. Schiffer for providing the data from ref. 3. We acknowledge financial support from the European Science Foundation PESC/RNP/HFM.
Author information
Authors and Affiliations
Contributions
The authors contributed equally to the manuscript.
Corresponding author
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Jaubert, L., Holdsworth, P. Signature of magnetic monopole and Dirac string dynamics in spin ice. Nature Phys 5, 258–261 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys1227
Received:
Accepted:
Published:
Issue Date:
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys1227
Further reading

Magnetic monopole density and antiferromagnetic domain control in spinice iridates
Nature Communications (2022)

Controlled creation and annihilation of isolated robust emergent magnetic monopole like charged vertices in square artificial spin ice
Scientific Reports (2021)

Magnetic charge propagation upon a 3D artificial spinice
Nature Communications (2021)

Monopole matter from magnetoelastic coupling in the Ising pyrochlore
Communications Physics (2021)

Tensionfree Dirac strings and steered magnetic charges in 3D artificial spin ice
npj Computational Materials (2021)