Keywords: BESSY II (269) materials research (69) spintronics (93) HZB own research (101)

Science Highlight    14.02.2019

Spintronics by “straintronics”: Superferromagnetism with electric-field induced strain

The cones represents the magnetization of the nanoparticles. In the absence of electric field (strain-free state) the size and separation between particles leads to a random orientation of their magnetization, known as superparamagnetism
Copyright: HZB

When an electric field is applied, the strain induced on the BaTiO3 substrate is transferred to the nanoparticles forcing their realignment along a common direction, known as superferromagnetism.
Copyright: HZB

Data storage in today’s magnetic media is very energy consuming. Combination of novel materials and the coupling between their properties could reduce the energy needed to control magnetic memories thus contributing to a smaller carbon footprint of the IT sector. Now an international team led by HZB has observed at the HZB lightsource BESSY II a new phenomenon in iron nanograins: whereas normally the magnetic moments of the iron grains are disordered with respect each other at room temperature, this can be changed by applying an electric field: This field induces locally a strain on the system leading to the formation of a so-called superferromagnetic ordered state.

Switching magnetic domains in magnetic memories requires normally magnetic fields which are generated by electrical currents, hence requiring large amounts of electrical power. Now, teams from France, Spain and Germany have demonstrated the feasibility of another approach at the nanoscale: “We can induce magnetic order on a small region of our sample by employing a small electric field instead of using magnetic fields”, Dr. Sergio Valencia, HZB, points out.

Ferroelectric substrate with magnetic nanoparticles on top

The samples consist of a wedge-shaped polycrystalline iron thin film deposited on top of a BaTiO3 substrate. BaTiO3 is a well-known ferroelectric and ferroelastic material: An electric field is able to distort the BaTiO3 lattice and induce mechanical strain. Analysis by electron microscopy revealed that the iron film consists of tiny nanograins (diameter 2,5 nm). At its thin end, the iron film is less than 0,5 nm thick, allowing for “low dimensionality” of the nanograins. Given their small size, the magnetic moments of the iron nanograins are disordered with respect to each other, this state is known as superparamagnetism.

BESSY II: Mapping the magnetic order

At the X-PEEM-Beamline at BESSY II, the scientists analysed what happens with the magnetic order of this nanograins under a small electric field. “With X-PEEM we can map the magnetic order of the iron grains on a microscopic level and observe how their orientation changes while in-situ applying an electric field”, Dr. Ashima Arora explains, who did most of the experiments during her PhD Thesis. Their results show: the electrical field induced a strain on BaTiO3, this strain was transmitted to the iron nanograins on top of it and formerly superparamagnetic regions of the sample switched to a new state. In this new state the magnetic moments of the iron grains are all aligned along the same direction, i.e. a collective long-range ferromagnetic order known as superferromagnetism.

From spintronics to straintronics

The experiments were performed at a temperature slightly above room temperature. ”This lets us hope that the phenomenon can be used for the design of new composite materials (consisting of ferroelectric and magnetic nanoparticles) for low-power spin-based storage and logic architectures operating at ambient conditions”, Valencia says.

Controlling nanoscale magnetic bits in magnetic random access memory devices by electric field induced strain alone, is known also as straintronics. It could offer a new, scalable, fast and energy efficient alternative to nowadays magnetic memories.

Published in Physical Review Materials (2019): Switching on Superferromagnetism

Arora, L. C. Phillips, P. Nukala, M. Ben Hassine , A.A. Ünal, B. Dkhil, Ll. Balcells, O. Iglesias, A. Barthélémy, F. Kronast, M. Bibes, and S. Valencia

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevMaterials.3.024403




You might also be interested in
  • <p>The illustration is alluding to the laser experiment in the background and shows the structure of TGCN.</p>SCIENCE HIGHLIGHT      05.06.2019

    Organic electronics: a new semiconductor in the carbon-nitride family

    Teams from Humboldt-Universität and the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin have explored a new material in the carbon-nitride family. Triazine-based graphitic carbon nitride (TGCN) is a semiconductor that should be highly suitable for applications in optoelectronics. Its structure is two-dimensional and reminiscent of graphene. Unlike graphene, however, the conductivity in the direction perpendicular to its 2D planes is 65 times higher than along the planes themselves. [...]

  • NEWS      04.06.2019

    Federal Ministry of Education and Research supports the development of a miniaturised EPR spectrometer

    Several research institutions are developing a miniaturized electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) device with industrial partner Bruker to investigate semiconductor materials, solar cells, catalysts and electrodes for fuel cells and batteries. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the "EPR-on-a-Chip" or EPRoC project with 6.7 million euros. On June 3, 2019, the kick-off meeting took place at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin. [...]

  • <p>Experiments at the femtoslicing facility of BESSY II revealed the ultrafast angular momentum flow from Gd and Fe spins to the lattice via orbital moment during demagnetization of GdFe alloy.</p>SCIENCE HIGHLIGHT      10.05.2019

    Laser-driven Spin Dynamics in Ferrimagnets: How does the Angular Momentum flow?

    When exposed to intense laser pulses, the magnetization of a material can be manipulated very fast. Fundamentally, magnetization is connected to the angular momentum of the electrons in the material. A team of researchers led by scientists from the Max Born Institute for Nonlinear Optics and Short Pulse Spectroscopy (MBI) has now been able to follow the flow of angular momentum during ultrafast optical demagnetization in a ferrimagnetic iron-gadolinium alloy at the femtoslicing facility of BESSY II. Their results are helpful to understand the fundamental processes and their speed limits. The study is published in Physical Review Letters. [...]