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Dynamical axion field in topological magnetic insulators


Axions are weakly interacting particles of low mass, and were postulated more than 30 years ago in the framework of the Standard Model of particle physics. Their existence could explain the missing dark matter of the Universe. However, despite intensive searches, axions have yet to be observed. Here we show that magnetic fluctuations of topological insulators couple to the electromagnetic fields exactly like the axions, and propose several experiments to detect this dynamical axion field. In particular, we show that the axion coupling enables a nonlinear modulation of the electromagnetic field, leading to attenuated total reflection. We propose a new optical-modulator device based on this principle.

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Figure 1: Crystal structure of Bi(Fe)2Se3.
Figure 2: Axionic polariton and ATR experiment.
Figure 3: Cantilever torque magnetometry measurement of axions.

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We wish to thank T. L. Hughes, S. B. Chung, S. Raghu, J. Maciejko, R. B. Liu and B. F. Zhu for insightful discussions. We thank M. Franz for pointing out a typographical error in the equations. This work is supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences under contract DE-AC03-76SF00515. J.W. acknowledges the support of the China Scholarship Council, NSF of China (Grant No.10774086) and the Program of Basic Research Development of China (Grant No. 2006CB921500).

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R.L. carried out the mean-field calculation and proposed the axionic polariton and its application as an optical modulator. J.W. and X.-L.Q. proposed the experiment of measuring the dynamical axion field by a microcantilever. S.-C.Z. conceived the idea of dynamic axions in topological magnetic insulators. All authors contributed to the general idea of topological magnetic insulators and the preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Shou-Cheng Zhang.

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Li, R., Wang, J., Qi, XL. et al. Dynamical axion field in topological magnetic insulators. Nature Phys 6, 284–288 (2010).

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