Femtosecond activation of magnetoelectricity


In magnetoelectric and multiferroic materials, the magnetic degree of freedom can be controlled by electric field, and vice versa. A significant amount of research has been devoted to exploiting this effect for magnetoelectric data storage and manipulation devices driven by d.c. electric fields1,2,3,4. Aiming at ever-faster schemes of magnetoelectric manipulation, a promising alternative approach offers similar control on a femtosecond timescale, relying on laser pulses4,5,6 to control both the charge7,8 and the magnetic9,10 order of solids. Here we photo-induce magnetoelectricity and multiferroicity in CuB2O4 on a sub-picosecond timescale. This process is triggered by the resonant optical generation of the highest-energy magnetic excitations—magnons with wavevectors near the edges of the Brillouin zone. The most striking consequence of the photo-excitation is that the absorption of light becomes non-reciprocal, which means that the material exhibits a different transparency for two opposite directions of propagation of light. The photo-induced magnetoelectricity does not show any decay on the picosecond timescale. Our findings uncover a path for ultrafast manipulations of the intrinsic coupling between charges and spins in multiferroics4, which may reveal unexplored magnetic configurations and unravel new functionalities in terms of femtosecond optical control of magnetism.

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Fig. 1: Phase diagram and experimental configurations.
Fig. 2: Spectrum of the pump beam and absorption of CuB2O4.
Fig. 3: Normalized transient transmissivity as a function of the fluence.
Fig. 4: Normalized transient transmissivity as a function of the magnetic field.
Fig. 5: Schematic representation of the relaxation dynamics.


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We thank J. Omachi for the time-resolved photoluminescence measurements and N. Nemoto, Y. Arashida and H. Sakurai for technical support. This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI grant no. 26247049 and the Photon Frontier Network Program funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), Japan. D.B was supported by the Japanese Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS) ‘Postdoctoral Fellowship for Overseas Researcher’ no. P16326. S.T was also supported by JSPS through the Program for Leading Graduate Schools (MERIT) and a Grant-in-Aid for JSPS Fellows (14J06840).

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D.B. conceived the project with contributions from K.K., T.A. and M.K-G. The sample was grown and characterized by S.T. D.B. performed the time-resolved experiments and analysed the data. All the authors took part in regular discussions and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to D. Bossini.

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Supplementary Notes 1–3, Supplementary References.

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Bossini, D., Konishi, K., Toyoda, S. et al. Femtosecond activation of magnetoelectricity. Nature Phys 14, 370–374 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41567-017-0036-1

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