Abstract
Twodimensional (2D) magnetism has been long soughtafter and only very recently realized in atomic crystals of magnetic van der Waals materials. So far, a comprehensive understanding of the magnetic excitations in such 2D magnets remains missing. Here we report polarized microRaman spectroscopy studies on a 2D honeycomb ferromagnet CrI_{3}. We show the definitive evidence of two sets of zeromomentum spin waves at frequencies of 2.28 terahertz (THz) and 3.75 THz, respectively, that are three orders of magnitude higher than those of conventional ferromagnets. By tracking the thickness dependence of both spin waves, we reveal that both are surface spin waves with lifetimes an order of magnitude longer than their temporal periods. Our results of two branches of highfrequency, longlived surface spin waves in 2D CrI_{3} demonstrate intriguing spin dynamics and intricate interplay with fluctuations in the 2D limit, thus opening up opportunities for ultrafast spintronics incorporating 2D magnets.
Introduction
The recent discovery of twodimensional (2D) ferromagnetism^{1,2} proves that magnetic anisotropy can overcome thermal fluctuations and stabilize longrange magnetic orders in the 2D limit at finite temperatures. This has immediately triggered tremendous interest^{3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12} in potential 2D magnetbased applications, ranging from ultrathin magnetic sensors to highefficiency spin filter devices. Naturally, a complete description of the 2D magnetic phase is now needed, which requires not only the identification of the ordered ground state, but equally important, the understanding of the excitations, i.e., spin waves, or equivalently, magnons^{13,14}. To date, there have been no direct comprehensive experimental studies on the full characteristics of spin waves in these 2D Ising ferromagnets, aside from the quasiparticle excitation spectra from the inelastic tunneling measurements in ref. ^{11}.
A spin wave describes the spin dynamics of magnetic ordering when excited, and its frequency determines the ultimate switching speed of stateoftheart ultrafast spintronic devices^{15,16,17,18}. Generally speaking, the wellestablished spintronic devices based on Heisenberg ferromagnets have speeds in the gigahertz (GHz) regime due to the weak magnetic anisotropy^{19,20}, while the speeds of the recently proposed antiferromagnetbased spintronic devices fall into the terahertz (THz) range owing to the exchange interaction between the two sublattices of the antiferromagnets^{21,22,23}. Remarkably, the newly discovered 2D Ising honeycomb ferromagnet CrI_{3} possesses both merits for realizing highfrequency spin waves: the strong magnetic anisotropy from the Isingtype spin interactions^{24} and the large exchange coupling between the two Cr^{3+} sublattices within the honeycomb framework^{25}.
In this work, we study the spin wave excitations in the 2D Ising honeycomb ferromagnet CrI_{3} using polarized microRaman spectroscopy. Based on Raman symmetry analysis, we uniquely distinguish two spin wave modes at 2.28 and 3.75 THz from the rest of the optical phonon modes. The doubling of the spin wave mode number is a direct consequence of the underlying nonBravais honeycomb lattice, while the exceptionally high THz frequency for a ferromagnet reflects the strong magnetic anisotropy and exchange interactions in good agreement with theoretical expectations. From the temperature and thickness dependence of the spin wave characteristics, we show that shortrange magnetic correlations are set in prior to the formation of a longrange static magnetic order for every thickness, and that stronger fluctuation effects appear in thinner flakes. Remarkably, we found that the integrated intensities (I. I.) of the two spin wave modes exhibit nearly no thickness dependence, in stark contrast to the fact that the I. I. for all optical phonons scale linearly with their sample thickness, as expected for all bulk modes in quasi2Dlayered materials. This observation on the two spin waves, however, shows striking analogy to the surface modes whose I. I. is independent of the thickness. Moreover, we show that, from more than tenlayer to monolayer CrI_{3}, the spin wave frequencies (2.28 and 3.75 THz) and the onset temperatures (45 K) remain nearly constant, while their lifetimes decrease significantly from 50 and 100 ps to 15 ps, but remain an order of magnitude longer than their corresponding spin wave temporal periods.
Results
Spin wave dispersion calculations in 2D CrI_{3}
We first performed the spin wave dispersion relation calculations for the monolayer ferromagnet CrI_{3}, in which the Cr^{3+} cations form a honeycomb structure with the edgesharing octahedral coordination formed by six I^{−} anions and the magnetic moment of the two Cr^{3+} cations (S = 3/2) per unit cell aligns in the same outofplane direction (Fig. 1a). The minimum model to describe this ferromagnetism in the monolayer CrI_{3} is the Ising spin Hamiltonian, \(H =  \frac{1}{2}\mathop {\sum }\limits_{\langle i,j \rangle} \left( {J_{{\mathrm{XY}}}\left( {S_i^{\mathrm{X}}S_j^{\mathrm{X}} + S_i^{\mathrm{Y}}S_j^{\mathrm{Y}}} \right) + J_{\mathrm{Z}}S_i^{\mathrm{Z}}S_j^{\mathrm{Z}}} \right)\), where \(S_{i(j)}^{{\mathrm{X}}({\mathrm{Y}},{\mathrm{Z}})}\) is the spin operator along the X (Y, Z) direction at the Cr^{3+} site i (j); J_{Z} and J_{XY} are the exchange coupling constants for the outofplane and the inplane spin components, respectively, and satisfy J_{Z}>J_{XY}> 0 for Ising ferromagnetism; and 〈i,j〉 denotes the approximation of the nearestneighbor exchange coupling. Figure 1b shows the calculated spin wave dispersion relation along the highsymmetry directions (Κ–Γ–Μ–Κ) of the first Brillouin zone (Fig. 1b, inset). Because there are two magnetic Cr^{3+} cations per primitive cell, there are two spin wave branches whose eigenstates contain inphase (lower branch) and outofphase (upper branch) spin precessions between the two sublattices^{26}. Of particular interest to Raman scattering, as well as the tunneling geometry of the magnetic filter devices, are the spin wave states at the Brillouin zone center (Γ point, zeromomentum) describing the uniform precession of the spins about the easy axis. The energy barrier from the ground state to the lower branch is proportional to the magnetic anisotropy, \(\Delta _{\mathrm{L}} = \frac{9}{4}\left( {J_{\mathrm{Z}}  J_{{\mathrm{XY}}}} \right)\), which is the energy cost for the spins to uniformly tilt off the easy axis in this excited state (Fig. 1d). The energy barrier for the upper branch results from a combined effect of both the magnetic anisotropy and the inplane exchange coupling, \(\Delta _{\mathrm{U}} = \frac{9}{4}\left( {J_{\mathrm{Z}} + J_{{\mathrm{XY}}}} \right)\), corresponding to the energy needed for tilting the spins at the two Cr^{3+} sublattices in the opposite directions upon this excitation (Fig. 1c).
Raman signature of two sets of zeromomentum spin waves
To study both zeromomentum spin waves in 2D CrI_{3} crystals, we fabricated CrI_{3} thin flakes fully encapsulated by hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) (see sample fabrication details in Methods and thickness characterization in Supplementary Note 1) and performed microRaman spectroscopy measurements on them as a function of layer number and temperature, as frequencyresolved magnetic Raman scattering cross section is directly proportional to the timedomain magnetic correlation function^{27}. In contrast to phonon Raman scattering which preserves timereversal symmetry (TRS) and thus has symmetric Raman tensors^{28}, the leadingorder onemagnon Raman scattering involves spin flipping (ΔS = ±1) that breaks TRS, and consequently corresponds to antisymmetric Raman tensors^{29,30}. Based on the difference in the Raman tensors, we can therefore readily distinguish magnon Raman modes from phonon modes via polarization selection rules. In our Raman measurements with the backscattering geometry, the polarizations of the incident and the scattered light were kept to be either parallel or perpendicular to each other, and could be rotated together with respect to the inplane crystal axis by any arbitrary angle ϕ. The incident photon energy of 1.96 eV was chosen to be on resonance with the charge transfer and the Cr^{3+ 4}A_{2} to ^{4}T_{1} transitions of CrI_{3} in order to increase the Raman sensitivity of magnon scattering^{4} (see Supplementary Note 2 for a comparison with the nonresonant Raman spectra).
Figure 2a shows lowtemperature (10 K) Raman spectra taken on a 13layer (13 L) CrI_{3} flake in both parallel and crosspolarization selection channels at ϕ = 0^{o} and ϕ = 45^{o}, denoted as XX, XY, X’X’, and X’Y’, respectively. In total, there are nine Ramanactive modes observed, which can be categorized into three groups based on their selection rules. First and most remarkably, the M_{1} and M_{2} modes are only present in the crosschannels (XY and X’Y’) and are absent in the parallel channels (XX and X’X’) within our detection resolution. This leads to the unique identification of purely antisymmetric Raman tensors for these two modes, evidence of them arising from the two zeromomentum magnons depicted in Fig. 1c and 1d. Of equal interest are their high frequencies at 76 cm^{–1} (2.28 THz, or 9.4 meV) and 125 cm^{–1} (3.75 THz, or 15.5 meV), respectively, which are three orders of magnitude higher than those of the conventional ferromagnets used in most spintronic devices today (in the GHz range)^{19,20}. Even though our measured magnon frequencies are in a similar energy scale as those reported in Ref. 11 (3 and 7 meV, and possibly 17 meV), their quantitative difference is significant and invites further investigations on the spin dynamics in 2D CrI_{3}. Furthermore, by substituting Δ_{L} and Δ_{U} with the two magnon frequencies above, the exchange coupling constants for the inplane (J_{XY}) and the outofplane (J_{Z}) spins are determined to be 11 cm^{–1} and 44 cm^{–1}, respectively, in good agreement with that obtained from generalized calculations of magnetic coupling constants for bulk CrI_{3}^{31}. Second, the A_{1}, A_{2}, and A_{3} modes show up only in the parallel channels (XX and X’X’) without any ϕ dependence, and therefore these are the A_{g} phonon modes under the rhombohedral crystal point group C_{3i} (space group \(R\overline 3\))^{32}. Third, the E_{1}, E_{2}, E_{3}, and E_{4} modes are the E_{g} phonon modes of C_{3i}, because of their appearance in both parallel and crosschannels, as well as the rotational anisotropy of their intensities (see detailed analysis for all Raman modes in Supplementary Note 3).
Temperature dependence of spin waves
Having identified the two singlemagnon modes in the Raman spectra at low temperature, we proceed to evaluate their temperature dependence. To see the results quantitatively, we fit the magnon modes with a Lorentzian function of the form \(\frac{{A(\varGamma /2)^2}}{{(\omega  \omega _{\mathrm{o}})^2 + (\varGamma /2)^2}}\), where ω_{o}, Γ, and A are the central frequency, linewidth, and peak intensity of the magnon mode, respectively. Figure 2b, c show the temperature dependence of the I. I., \(\frac{{\mathrm{\pi }}}{2}A\varGamma\), of the two magnon modes. Clearly, both traces exhibit a clear upturn below a critical temperature T_{C} = 45 K (the same value for bulk CrI_{3}), that is, however, lower than the bulk Curie temperature of 60 K determined by the magnetic susceptibility measurements under a magnetic field of 0.1 T (see the magnetic susceptibility data and Raman data on bulk CrI_{3} in Supplementary Note 4). The temperature dependence of the magnon lifetimes (inverse of the linewidths, Γ^{−1}, Fig. 2d, e), on the other hand, shows that a short lifetime of < 10 ps sets in at 60 K and saturates at about 50 ps (100 ps) around 45 K for the M_{1} (M_{2}) magnon. This, together with the divergent behavior of the linewidth temperature dependence (see Fig. 2d, e), indicates that strong magnetic fluctuations are present before the static magnetic order is established at 45 K. It is therefore likely that 60 K marks the onset of the fieldstabilized magnetic correlations, while 45 K denotes the intrinsic transition to the spontaneous ferromagnetism, reconciling the difference between the critical temperatures measured by the two different experimental techniques. This is also consistent with the temperaturedependent magnetooptical Kerr effect^{2} and tunneling^{7,12} measurements of thin samples at zero fields, and explains the difference between the tunneling resistance with^{11} and without^{7,12} a magnetic field appearing above T_{C}.
Thickness dependence of spin waves
To investigate how thermal fluctuations impact the intrinsic 2D ferromagnetism and its excitations, we performed a systematic Raman study of the M_{1} and M_{2} magnon modes measured on atomically thin CrI_{3} crystals ranging from 13 L to monolayer (1 L). It is clear from the data taken at 10 K in Fig. 3a that both main magnon modes (M_{1} and M_{2}) and their satellite modes (highlighted with gray triangles in Fig. 3a) have a notable layer number dependence. First, the satellite magnon modes arise from the finite thickness effect in thin layers, in which broken translational symmetry perpendicular to the basal plane makes singlemagnon modes with finite outofplane momenta accessible in Raman scattering^{33,34} (see the same effect for phonons in Supplementary Note 5). The small energy separation between the main mode and the nearest satellite, on the order of 3 cm^{–1}, indicates the weak interlayer magnetic coupling strength^{26}, consistent with the small training magnetic field of less than 1 T reported in literature^{2,8,11}. Moreover, as the layer number decreases, there are fewer but stronger observable satellite magnon modes in the Raman spectra. Second, the two main magnon modes, M_{1} and M_{2}, persist down to the monolayer with symmetric lineshapes, while their peak intensities drop and their linewidths broaden with decreasing layer numbers.
To understand the layer number dependence of the M_{1} and M_{2} magnons in greater detail, we extracted the magnon mode frequencies (ω_{o}), lifetimes (Γ^{−1}), and I. I. (\(\frac{{\mathrm{\pi }}}{2}A\varGamma\)), from fitting their Raman spectra with the Lorentz function (\(\frac{{A(\varGamma /2)^2}}{{(\omega  \omega _{\mathrm{o}})^2 + (\varGamma /2)^2}}\)), and the results are summarized in Fig. 3b–e. The frequencies of the M_{1} and M_{2} magnons increase slightly, by about 0.8 cm^{–1} (1.1%) and 3 cm^{–1} (2.4%), respectively, as the layer number decreases from 13 L to 1 L, possibly because the reduced electronic screening in thinner samples enhances the exchange coupling. In sharp contrast, their lifetimes drop significantly, from about 50 ps (100 ps) in 13 L to 15 ps in 1 L for M_{1} (M_{2}), which is consistent with the increased thermal fluctuations in 2D. Despite this decrease, even in the monolayer, the lifetimes are still more than one order of magnitude larger than the corresponding magnon temporal periods, about 30 times for M_{1} and 50 times for M_{2}. This ratio of magnon lifetime to the temporal period in 2D CrI_{3} is significantly higher than that of the Heisenberg ferromagnets^{19,20} and at least comparable to, if not greater than, that of the antiferromagnets^{20,21,22}, making coherent control of both THz spin waves in the time domain feasible down to the monolayer limit of CrI_{3}. Remarkably, I. I. of both magnons, which is known to be proportional to the magnon density, remain nearly constant and independent of the layer number, while that of the phonons scale linearly with the thickness (Fig. 3c, e). This observation on the M_{1} and M_{2} magnons is consistent with surface magnons whose density is thicknessindependent. Considering that surface magnons have been theoretically predicted in 2D honeycomb ferromagnets^{26}, although mainly at different wave vectors K points, it might not be unreasonable to speculate the surface origin of the two THz magnon modes that we have detected here.
Phase diagram of 2D CrI_{3}
By carrying out temperaturedependent Raman measurements and analysis similar to Fig. 2b, c for different thickness samples, we tracked the layer dependence of the 2D ferromagnetism onset temperature. Figure 4a displays the temperaturedependent traces of the normalized I. I. of the M_{2} magnon plotted as a function of layer number, with the onset temperature (T_{C}) for each trace determined by fitting with an orderparameterlike function for a ferromagnet \({\mathrm{I}}.{\mathrm{I}}. \propto \sqrt {T_{\mathrm{C}}  T}\) (see the similar plot of M_{1} in Supplementary Note 6). As the layer number decreases from 13 L to 1 L, the extracted T_{C} has an observable decline from 45 K to 40 K. This approximately 12% suppression in T_{C} is in sharp contrast to the slight enhancement of the magnon frequencies, i.e., 1.1% increase of Δ_{L} for M_{1} and 2.4% of Δ_{U} for M_{2}, which then suggests that the drop in T_{C} is due to stronger thermal fluctuations in thinner samples^{35}. Nevertheless, the finite T_{C} for all samples with various thicknesses establishes a phase boundary for the intrinsic transition to the intralayer ferromagnetism in 2D CrI_{3} (see Fig. 4b).
Discussion
We have identified two branches of THz spin waves with their lifetime on the order of 10–100 ps in a 2D Ising ferromagnet, CrI_{3}, whose magnetic onset temperature T_{C} remains close to that of their bulk crystal. The robust THz magnons in 2D CrI_{3} are in stark contrast to spin waves in conventional metallic ferromagnetic thin films that occur at relatively low, GHz frequencies^{16} and also show significant substratedependence^{36,37,38}. Similar to many antiferromagnets, 2D CrI_{3} is a semiconductor that possesses highfrequency, longlived spin waves and is free of stray magnetic fields within 2D domains^{39,40}. Different from bulk antiferromagnets, 2D CrI_{3} couples efficiently with external magnetic fields^{2,3,4,8,11,12} and can be tailored in various device geometries with definitive thicknesses^{6,10}. We envision that these unique characteristics of spin waves in 2D CrI_{3} will provide unprecedented opportunities for applications in ultrafast and ultracompact spintronic devices.
Methods
Magnon dispersion calculations
The Ising Hamiltonian with anisotropic exchange coupling is transformed by applying the Holstein–Primakoff transformation. The singlesite spin operators, \(S_\phi ^ +\) and \(S_\phi ^ \), are related to the momentum space magnon creation and annihilation operators, \(\alpha _{\mathbf{k}}^\dagger\) and α_{k}, as \(S_\phi ^ + = S_\phi ^{\mathrm{X}} + {\mathrm{i}}S_\phi ^{\mathrm{Y}} = \sqrt {2S/N} \mathop {\sum }\limits_{\mathbf{k}} \alpha _{\mathbf{k}}e^{{\mathrm{i}}{\mathbf{k}} \cdot {\mathbf{r}}_\phi }\), \(S_\phi ^  = S_\phi ^{\mathrm{X}}  {\mathrm{i}}S_\phi ^{\mathrm{Y}} = \sqrt {2S/N} \mathop {\sum }\limits_{\mathbf{k}} \alpha _{\mathbf{k}}^\dagger e^{  {\mathrm{i}}{\mathbf{k}} \cdot {\mathbf{r}}_\phi }\), and \(S_\phi ^{\mathrm{Z}} = S  1/N\mathop {\sum}\limits_{{\mathbf{k}},{\mathbf{k}}^\prime } {\alpha _{\mathbf{k}}^\dagger \alpha _{{\mathbf{k}}^\prime }e^{{\mathrm{i}}({\mathbf{k}}^\prime  {\mathbf{k}}) \cdot {\mathbf{r}}_\phi }}\) where ϕ = a or b, corresponding to the two Cr^{3+} sublattices (n = 2 and S = 3/2). The bosonic Hamiltonian is then diagonalized using wavefunction \(\psi _{\mathbf{k}} = \left( {\begin{array}{*{20}{c}} {a_{\mathbf{k}}} \\ {b_{\mathbf{k}}} \end{array}} \right)\) to extract the magnon dispersion relations and the eigenvectors.
Growth of CrI_{3} single crystals
The single crystals of CrI_{3} were grown by the chemical vapor transport method. Chromium powder (99.99% purity) and iodine flakes (99.999%) in a 1:3 molar ratio were put into a silicon tube with a length of 200 mm and an inner diameter of 14 mm. The tube was pumped down to 0.01 Pa and sealed under vacuum, and then placed in a twozone horizontal tube furnace. The two growth zones were raised up slowly to 903 K and 823 K for 2 days, and were then held there for another 7 days. Shiny, black, platelike crystals with lateral dimensions of up to several millimeters can be obtained from the growth. In order to avoid degradation, the CrI_{3} crystals were stored in a glovebox filled with nitrogen.
Fabrication of fewlayer samples
CrI_{3} samples were exfoliated in a nitrogenfilled glovebox and the thickness of the flakes was first estimated by the optical contrast. Using a polymerstamping technique inside the glove box, CrI_{3} flakes were sandwiched between two fewlayer hBN flakes to avoid surface reaction with oxygen and moisture in the ambient environment. The encapsulated CrI_{3} samples were then moved out of the glove box for Raman spectroscopy measurements. After Raman spectroscopy measurements, the thicknesses of the encapsulated CrI_{3} flakes were determined by the atomic force microscopy (AFM) measurements.
Raman spectroscopy
Raman spectroscopy measurements were carried out using both a 633nm and a 532nm excitation laser with a beam spot size of ~3 μm. The laser power was kept at 80 μW, corresponding to a similar fluence used in literature (10 μW over an ~1μmdiameter area), to minimize the local heating effect. Backscattering geometry was used. The scattered light was dispersed by a Horiba Labram HR Raman spectrometer and detected by a thermoelectric cooled CCD camera. Selection rule channels XX and XY denote the parallel and crosspolarizations of incident and scattered light at ϕ = 0^{o}; X’X’ and X’Y’ represent the parallel and crosschannels at ϕ = 45^{o}. A closedcycle helium cryostat was interfaced with the microRaman system for the temperaturedependent measurements. All thermal cycles were performed at a base pressure lower than 7 × 10^{–7} Torr.
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Acknowledgements
We acknowledge useful discussions with Roberto Merlin, Lu Li, Andrew Millis, and Allan McDonald. We thank Gaihua Ye for his technical assistance. R.H. acknowledges support by NSF CAREER Grant No. DMR1760668 (Z.Y., F.D., S.S., E.W., and R.H.), and NSF MRI Grant No. DMR1337207 (lowtemperature equipment). L.Z. acknowledges support by NSF CAREER Grant No. DMR1749774 (S.L. and L.Z.). A.W.T. acknowledges support from NSERC Discovery grant RGPIN201703815 and the Korea–Canada Cooperation Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (NRF2017K1A3A1A12073407). This research was undertaken, thanks in part to funding from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. H.L. acknowledges support by the National Key R&D Program of China (Grant No. 2016YFA0300504), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 11574394, No. 11774423), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, and the Research Funds of Renmin University of China (15XNLF06, 15XNLQ07, and 18XNLG14). K.S. acknowledges support via NSF Grant No. NSFEFMA1741618 and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
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W.J. and L.Z. conceived and initiated this project; C.L., S.T., and H.L. synthesized and characterized the bulk CrI_{3} single crystals; H.H.K., B.Y., and A.W.T. fabricated and characterized the fewlayer samples; Z.Y., P.R., F.D., S.S., E.W., and R.H. performed the Raman measurements on CrI_{3} thin layers, and W.J. and S.L. took the Raman spectra on bulk CrI_{3}; S.L. carried out the magnon dispersion calculations under the guidance of K.S. and L.Z.; W.J., R.H., and L.Z. analyzed the data; W.J., R.H., and L.Z. wrote the paper and all authors participated in the discussions of the results.
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Jin, W., Kim, H.H., Ye, Z. et al. Raman fingerprint of two terahertz spin wave branches in a twodimensional honeycomb Ising ferromagnet. Nat Commun 9, 5122 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467018075476
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