Letter | Published:

Paradigm of the time-resolved magneto-optical Kerr effect for femtosecond magnetism

Nature Physics volume 5, pages 499502 (2009) | Download Citation

Abstract

The magneto-optical Kerr effect (MOKE) is a powerful tool for studying changes in the magnetization of ferromagnetic materials. It works by measuring changes in the polarization of reflected light. However, because the conventional theoretical basis for interpreting a MOKE signal assumes measurement with continuous-wave light1,2, its use for understanding high-speed magnetization dynamics of a material probed with femtosecond optical pulses3,4 has been controversial5,6,7,8,9,10. Here we establish a new paradigm for interpreting time-resolved MOKE measurements, through a first-principles investigation of ferromagnetic nickel. We show that the time-resolved optical and magnetic responses energetically follow their respective optical and magneto-optical susceptibilities. As a result, the one-to-one correspondence between them sensitively depends on the incident photon energy. In nickel, for photon energies below 2 eV the magnetic response is faithfully reflected in the optical response, but above 2 eV they decouple. By constructing a phase-sensitive polarization versus magnetization plot, we find that for short pulses the magnetic signals are delayed by 10 fs with respect to the optical signals. For longer pulses, the delay shortens and the behaviour approaches the continuous-wave response. This finally resolves the long-standing dispute over the interpretation in the time-resolved MOKE measurements and lays a solid foundation for understanding femtomagnetism3,4.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the US Department of Energy under contract No DE-FG02-06ER46304 and US Army Research Office under contract W911NF-04-1-0383, and was also supported by a Promising Scholars grant from Indiana State University. In addition, we acknowledge part of the work as done on Indiana State University’s high performance computers. This research used resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, which is supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under contract No DE-AC02-05CH11231. W.H. and G.L. acknowledge support from Priority Programmes 1133 and 1153 of the German Research Foundation. Initial studies used resources of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility at Argonne National Laboratory, which is supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under contract No DE-AC02-06CH11357.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Physics, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana 47809, USA

    • G. P. Zhang
  2. Department of Physics, Kaiserslautern University of Technology and Research Center OPTIMAS, Box 3049, D-67653 Kaiserslautern, Germany

    • W. Hübner
    •  & Georgios Lefkidis
  3. Department of Physics and Center for Instruction, Research and Technology, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana 47809, USA

    • Yihua Bai
  4. Office of the Chancellor and Center for Nanoscience, Departments of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Physics & Astronomy, University of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63121, USA

    • Thomas F. George

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Contributions

G.P.Z. drafted the paper, and W.H., G.L., Y.B. and T.F.G. modified it. G.P.Z. computed the results, and G.P.Z., W.H. and G.L. analysed the data. Y.B. implemented the parallelization of the source code.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to G. P. Zhang.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys1315

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