Tuning inelastic light scattering via symmetry control in the two-dimensional magnet CrI3


The coupling between spin and charge degrees of freedom in a crystal gives rise to magneto-optical effects with applications in the sensitive detection of local magnetic order, optical modulation and data storage. In two-dimensional magnets these effects manifest themselves in the large magneto-optical Kerr effect1,2, spontaneous helical light emission3,4 from ferromagnetic (FM) monolayers and electric-field induced Kerr rotation5,6,7 and giant second-order non-reciprocal optical effects8 in antiferromagnetic (AFM) bilayers. Here we demonstrate the tuning of inelastically scattered light through symmetry control in atomically thin chromium triiodide (CrI3). In monolayers, we found an extraordinarily large magneto-optical Raman effect from an A1g phonon mode due to the emergence of FM order. The linearly polarized, inelastically scattered light rotates by ~40°, more than two orders of magnitude larger than the rotation from the magneto-optical Kerr effect under the same experimental conditions. In CrI3 bilayers, the same phonon mode becomes Davydov-split into two modes of opposite parity, which exhibit divergent selection rules that depend on inversion symmetry and the underlying magnetic order. We demonstrate the magneto-electrical control over these selection rules by activating or suppressing Raman activity for the odd-parity phonon mode and the magneto-optical rotation of scattered light from the even-parity phonon mode. Our work underlines the unique opportunities provided by two-dimensional magnets to control the combined time-reversal and inversion symmetries to manipulate Raman optical selection rules and for exploring emergent magneto-optical effects and spin–phonon coupled physics.

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Fig. 1: Raman scattering and its dependence on magnetic order in monolayer CrI3.
Fig. 2: The effects of FM order on the polarization of inelastically scattered light in monolayer CrI3.
Fig. 3: Coupling of magnetic order and Raman optical selection rules in bilayer CrI3.
Fig. 4: Electrical switching of a Raman-silent phonon in bilayer CrI3.

Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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This work was mainly supported by the Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division (DE-SC0012509). Understanding of magnetoelectric switching of Raman optical selection rules is partially supported by AFOSR MURI 2D MAGIC (FA9550-19-1-0390). Work at ORNL (M.A.M.) was supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division. K.W. and T.T. acknowledge support from the Elemental Strategy Initiative conducted by the MEXT, Japan and JSPS KAKENHI Grant nos JP15K21722. B.H. acknowledges partial support from NW IMPACT. X.X. acknowledges the support from the State of Washington funded and from the Boeing Distinguished Professorship in Physics.

Author information




X.X., B.H. and J.C. conceived the experiment. B.H. and J.C. fabricated and characterized the samples, assisted by E.L.R. and T.S. B.H. and J.C. performed the Raman and magnetic circular dichroism measurements. B.H., J.C., X.X., X.Z. and D.X. analysed and interpreted the results. T.T. and K.W. synthesized the hBN crystals. M.A.M. synthesized and characterized the bulk CrI3 crystals. B.H., J.C., X.X. and D.X. wrote the paper with input from all the authors. All the authors discussed the results.

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Correspondence to Xiaodong Xu.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–8.

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Huang, B., Cenker, J., Zhang, X. et al. Tuning inelastic light scattering via symmetry control in the two-dimensional magnet CrI3. Nat. Nanotechnol. 15, 212–216 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-019-0598-4

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