Discovery of a New Coupling Between Magnetic and Electrical Properties in a Material

A new coupling between magnetic and electric properties has been discovered in a special class of metals, known as multiferroics. Such materials could serve as the basis for the next generation of faster and energy-efficient logic, memory, and sensing technology, by using an electric field to switch magnetic properties and vice-versa. However multiferroics are rare in nature and the coupling is typically weak. Most models used to describe this coupling are based on distorting the atomic arrangement of a magnetic material. Now, researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory have found a new mechanism. Using soft x-ray resonant scattering to study a particular metal oxide made of yttrium, manganese, and oxygen, they determined that the bonding between the manganese and the oxygen is dependent upon the magnetic structure of the material. Thus, changes in the materialís magnetic structure result in a change in direction of its ferroelectric state, i.e. the material is a multiferroic. Previously, this mechanism had only been predicted theoretically. The work appeared July 25th in Physical Review Letters.

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

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