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Volume 592 Issue 7854, 15 April 2021

Atomic whirls in motion

Vortices of electrical polarization — similar to skyrmions found in magnets — have been seen in ferroelectric materials, but little is known about their dynamics. In this week’s issue, Haidan Wen and his colleagues probe the phenomenon and reveal the unique dynamical nature of these vortices. The researchers used ultrashort electric-field pulses in the form of terahertz radiation to create vortex motion in a ferroelectric film, and then used femtosecond X-ray diffraction to examine the movement of the vortices. They found that the polar vortices that are smaller than skyrmions have higher frequencies, and identified a tunable, low-frequency mode called a vortexon, which corresponds to collective atomic motion arising from interactions between the vortices and the atomic lattice. The researchers suggest that the properties of the vortices could find application in ultrahigh-speed data processing.

Cover image: Image by Ellen Weiss/Argonne National Laboratory.

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