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Writing magnetic memory with ultrashort light pulses

Abstract

Laser pulses are the shortest stimulus known to control the magnetization of materials and to switch magnetic devices on the picosecond to femtosecond timescales. Femtosecond laser pulses have been able to trigger the fastest changes in the magnetic state of matter, and thus these pulses may lead to technologies with increased speed and energy efficiency of magnetic data storage and memory. In the past decade, materials enabling optical control of magnetism and concepts of devices employing such opto-magnetic phenomena have been shown. In this Review, we explore ultrafast all-optical switching (AOS) of magnetization as the least-dissipative and fastest method for magnetic writing. We outline the physical processes responsible for mechanisms of AOS, define the materials suitable for optical control of magnetism and test these mechanisms and materials against three important criteria of recording: speed, accompanying dissipations and scalability. In particular, we emphasize that switching magnetization with the help of light outperforms other methods in terms of the speed of the write–read magnetic recording event (less than 20 ps) and the unprecedentedly low heat load (<6 J cm−3). Finally, we outline the integration of AOS in spintronic devices and the perspective of large-scale integration towards magnetic random access memory and other memory applications with low-energy dissipations.

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Fig. 1: Comparison of classical and ultrafast scenarios for magnetization reversal.
Fig. 2: One-spin model of all-optical switching.
Fig. 3: Two-spin model of all-optical switching.
Fig. 4: Dynamics of all-optical switching in Co/Pt multilayers.
Fig. 5: Switching energy and switching time for selected devices.
Fig. 6: Direct magnetoelectric readout of optical switching in a GdFeCo film by measuring its magnetoresistance67.
Fig. 7: An optically switchable magnetic tunnel junction67.
Fig. 8: Schematics of large-scale integration of all-optical switching devices in an array for high-speed memory applications.

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Acknowledgements

A.V.K. acknowledges funding from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Leading Scientist of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science programme (14.Z50.31.0034). M.L. acknowledges support from the Center for Spintronic Materials, Interfaces and Novel Architectures (C-SPIN), one of six centres of STARnet, a Semiconductor Research Corporation programme, sponsored by the Microelectronics Advanced Research Corporation (MARCO) and US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The authors acknowledge the help of A. Pogrebna in the making of figure 5.

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A.V.K. and M.L. discussed the idea of the paper and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Alexey V. Kimel.

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Kimel, A.V., Li, M. Writing magnetic memory with ultrashort light pulses. Nat Rev Mater 4, 189–200 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-019-0086-3

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