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Control of chiral orbital currents in a colossal magnetoresistance material


Colossal magnetoresistance (CMR) is an extraordinary enhancement of the electrical conductivity in the presence of a magnetic field. It is conventionally associated with a field-induced spin polarization that drastically reduces spin scattering and electric resistance. Ferrimagnetic Mn3Si2Te6 is an intriguing exception to this rule: it exhibits a seven-order-of-magnitude reduction in ab plane resistivity that occurs only when a magnetic polarization is avoided1,2. Here, we report an exotic quantum state that is driven by ab plane chiral orbital currents (COC) flowing along edges of MnTe6 octahedra. The c axis orbital moments of ab plane COC couple to the ferrimagnetic Mn spins to drastically increase the ab plane conductivity (CMR) when an external magnetic field is aligned along the magnetic hard c axis. Consequently, COC-driven CMR is highly susceptible to small direct currents exceeding a critical threshold, and can induce a time-dependent, bistable switching that mimics a first-order ‘melting transition’ that is a hallmark of the COC state. The demonstrated current-control of COC-enabled CMR offers a new paradigm for quantum technologies.

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Fig. 1: Physical properties in magnetic fields and phase diagram.
Fig. 2: Response of physical properties to d.c. currents and magnetic fields.
Fig. 3: a axis IV characteristic.
Fig. 4: Time-dependent bistable switching and the COC.

Data availability

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


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G.C. thanks M. Lee, R. Nandkishore, X. Chen, M. Hermele, D. Singh, D. Reznik, D. Dessau and N. Clark for useful discussions. I.K. thanks E. Berg, M. Mourigal, B. Uchoa, C. Varma and Z. Wang for useful discussions. This work is supported by National Science Foundation via grants no. DMR 1903888 and DMR 2204811. The theoretical part of this work is in part performed at Aspen Center for Physics, which is supported by National Science Foundation grant PHY-1607611. The work at the Spallation Neutron Source at the Oak Ridge Natinoal Laboratory is sponsored by the Scientific User Facilities Division, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, US Department of Energy.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Y.Z. conducted measurements of the physical properties and data analysis; Y.N. grew the single crystals, characterized the crystal structure of the crystals, measured magnetization with applied currents and contributed to the data analysis; H.Z. conducted measurements of crystal and physical properties including the magnetostriction and the data analysis; F.Y. determined the magnetic structure of Mn3Si2Te6 using neutron diffraction and contributed to the data analysis; S.H. contributed to the theoretical analysis including detailed configurations of chiral orbital currents presented in the figures; L.D. contributed to the data analysis and paper writing; I.K. proposed the theoretical argument, formed the theoretical discussion and contributed to paper writing; G.C. initiated and directed this work, analyzed the data, constructed the figures and wrote the paper.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Itamar Kimchi or Gang Cao.

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Nature thanks Lan Wang, Victor Yakovenko and Meng Wang for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Resistivity at low temperatures for Mn3Si2Te6 and transport and magnetic properties for Mn3(Si1-xGex)2Te6, Mn3Si2(Te1-ySey)6.

a, The temperature dependence of the a-axis resistivity ρa at low temperatures (data in brown), and ln (ρa) versus T−1 (data in blue). Note that ρa does not follow an activation law and or a simple power law at low temperatures. b, c, The magnetic field dependence of the a-axis magnetoresistance ratio defined by ρa(H)/ρa(0) (b) and the easy a-axis magnetization Ma (c) for Mn3(Si1-xGex)2Te6 (red), Mn3Si2(Te1-ySey)6 (blue) and undoped compound (black), respectively. Inset in b schematic illustration of the unit cell expansion and contraction due to Ge doping (red) and Se doping (blue), respectively.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Additional I-V characteristic.

a, Comparison of the I-V characteristic at H || a axis and H || c axis: the a-axis I-V characteristic at 10 K for H = 0 (red), μoH = 14 T along the a axis (green) and the c axis (blue). Note that the regime where ΔV/ΔI = 0 emerges only when H || c axis. b, The I-V characteristic at μoH||c = 14 T for various temperatures. Note the regime ΔVI = 0 persists up to 70 K. c, The I-V characteristic at I || c axis for various temperatures. Note that the I-V characteristic is qualitatively similar to that for I || a axis but the first-order switching at IC is weaker.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Additional time-dependent bistable switching data.

a, Time-dependent bistable switching at 10 K with 1,800 s elapsed. b, Time-dependent bistable switching at 50 K and μoH||c = 14 T. c, d, Time-dependent bistable switching for I || c axis at 10 K for H = 0 (c) and μoH = 14 T (d).

Extended Data Fig. 4 Chiral orbital current parameters of Ψa in the Mn1 (a) and Mn2 (b) planes.

a, Three independent currents (orange, purple, and cerulean) run along Te-Te bonds in the Mn1 plane and are symmetry allowed magnetic space group. b, Three more independent currents (cyan, magenta, and yellow) run along Te-Te bonds in the Mn2 plane. These currents are not linearly independent of the COC of Fig. 4g in the main text. The sum of the orange, purple, and cerulean COC in a gives rise to the difference of the red and blue COC of Fig. 4g in the main text. Moreover, the sum of the cyan, magenta, and yellow COC in b gives the difference of the blue and twice purple COC of Fig. 4g. Bonds with two arrows of the same colour indicate that the current magnitude is doubled on that edge. In total, the COC state is parametrized by eight independent loop currents.

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Zhang, Y., Ni, Y., Zhao, H. et al. Control of chiral orbital currents in a colossal magnetoresistance material. Nature 611, 467–472 (2022).

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