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Optically induced ultrafast magnetization switching in ferromagnetic spin valves


The discovery of spin-transfer torque (STT) enabled the control of the magnetization direction in magnetic devices in nanoseconds using an electrical current. Ultrashort optical pulses have also been used to manipulate the magnetization of ferrimagnets at picosecond timescales by bringing the system out of equilibrium. So far, these methods of magnetization manipulation have mostly been developed independently within the fields of spintronics and ultrafast magnetism. Here we show optically induced ultrafast magnetization reversal taking place within less than a picosecond in rare-earth-free archetypal spin valves of [Pt/Co]/Cu/[Co/Pt] commonly used for current-induced STT switching. We find that the magnetization of the free layer can be switched from a parallel to an antiparallel alignment, as in STT, indicating the presence of an unexpected, intense and ultrafast source of opposite angular momentum in our structures. Our findings provide a route to ultrafast magnetization control by bridging concepts from spintronics and ultrafast magnetism.

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Fig. 1: Sample structure and schematic illustrations of the switching observed in this study.
Fig. 2: MOKE hysteresis loops and results of magnetization switching using a single femtosecond-laser pulse.
Fig. 3: Magnetization dynamics obtained via TR-MOKE.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this work are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.

Code availability

The code that calculated the switching dynamics based on an sd model is available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.


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We thank E. E. Fullerton, B. Koopmans, S. Petit-Watelot, N. Bergeard, S. Iihama and H. Arisawa for fruitful discussions, and S. Suire for upgrades to the setup used in part of the studies. This work is supported by the ANR-20-CE09-0013 UFO, the Institute Carnot ICEEL for the project ‘CAPMAT’ and FASTNESS, the Région Grand Est, the Metropole Grand Nancy, for the Chaire PLUS by the impact project LUE-N4S, part of the French PIA project ‘Lorraine Université d’Excellence’ reference ANR-15-IDEX-04-LUE, the ‘FEDERFSE Lorraine et Massif Vosges 2014-2020’, a European Union Program, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program COMRAD under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 861300, the Academy of Finland (grant no. 316857), the ANR project ANR-20-CE24-0003 SPOTZ, the Sakura Program, the JSPS Bilateral Program, the Tohoku University-Université de Lorraine Matching Funds, and CSIS cooperative research project in Tohoku University. This article is based upon work from COST Action CA17123 MAGNETOFON, supported by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology). J.I. acknowledges support from JSPS Overseas Research Fellowships. W.Z. gratefully acknowledges the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 12104030), the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (grant no. 2022M710320) and the China Scholarship Council. All fundings were shared equally among all authors.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



J.I., M.H., G.M. and S.M. planned the study. M.H. performed the sample fabrication and optimized the magnetic properties. With input from G.M., J.I. and W.Z. performed the single-shot measurements. With input from Q.R., J.G., G.M. and J.H., J.I. and W.Z performed the layer-resolved TR-MOKE measurements. J.I., E.D. and J.G. performed the TR-MOKE measurements without the QWP. J.I., E.D. and J.G. performed the bipolar switching measurements. With input from Q.R., J.H., J.G. and G.M., J.I. analysed the data. Q.R. performed simulations based on an sd model. J.I. and J.G. wrote the manuscript with input from Q.R., E.D., J.-X.L., M.H., S.M. and G.M. All authors contributed to discussing the measurement results.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Junta Igarashi or Jon Gorchon.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature Materials thanks Dmytro Afanasiev and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Magnetic contrast profiles.

a MOKE images obtained after irradiation of a fs-laser pulse starting from the P+ (dark red) and AP+ (light red) states for tCu = 10 nm, with F = 3.7, 5.9, and 7.6 mJ/cm2. A sketch shows the excitation (fs laser pulse) /probing (LED) geometries. Magnetic contrast vs. radius r for tCu = 10 nm starting from b P+ state and c AP+ state. Magnetic contrast vs. displacement for tCu = 80 nm starting from d P+ state and e AP+ state. The color scale indicates the magnetic configurations.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Calculated energy absorption in spin valves.

Calculated absorption profiles for spin valves with a tCu = 10 nm b tCu = 80 nm. For tCu = 80 nm, we take into account an angle of incidence angle of 45° in the calculation (0° for reference). Calculated energy absorption in the free layer and the reference layer as a function of tCu for an angle of incidence of 0° when irradiated from c the free layer and d the reference layer. Shaded regions indicate that magnetization reversal was observed in the sample with the Cu thickness.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Threshold fluence as a function of Cu thickness.

a Threshold incident fluence as a function of Cu thickness tCu. Opened (closed) symbols correspond to results obtained with an angle of incidence of 45° (0°). The error bars show the standard error of fitting the equation shown in Methods to the experimentally obtained domain radius (area) versus the energy of laser pulse. b Calculated energy absorption in the free layer as a function of tCu for angles of incidence of 0° and 45°. c Threshold absorbed fluences obtained by multiplying a and b.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Threshold incident fluence for samples with different substrates: sapphire and glass.

The error bars show the standard error of fitting the equation shown in Methods to the experimentally obtained domain radius (area) versus the energy of laser pulse.

Extended Data Fig. 5 MOKE hysteresis loops in studied spin valves.

MOKE hysteresis loop measured from the free layer for tCu = a 5 nm, b 10 nm, c 20 nm, d 40 nm, e 60 nm, and f 80 nm. The black line corresponds to the major loop. The red (blue) line corresponds to the minor loop starting from the P+ (P−) state.

Extended Data Fig. 6 MOKE images obtained after irradiation of a fs-laser pulse for tCu = 10 nm without the reference layer.

The incident laser fluence is 4.1mJ/cm2.The color scale indicates the magnetic configurations. A sketch shows the excitation (fs laser pulse)/probing (LED) geometries.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Threshold incident fluence as a function of pulse duration for tCu = 10 nm.

The error bars show the standard error of fitting the equation shown in Methods to the experimentally obtained domain radius (area) versus the energy of laser pulse.

Extended Data Fig. 8 Magnetization dynamics for tCu = 10 nm with short timescale.

The laser incident fluence is 6.1 mJ/cm2.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Sections 1–8, Figs. 1–10 and Table 1.

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Igarashi, J., Zhang, W., Remy, Q. et al. Optically induced ultrafast magnetization switching in ferromagnetic spin valves. Nat. Mater. (2023).

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