Researchers have engineered a material that could lead to a new generation of computing devices, packing in more computing power while consuming a fraction of the energy that today's electronics require.
Known as a magnetoelectric multiferroic material, it combines electrical and magnetic properties at room temperature and relies on a phenomenon called "planar rumpling."
The new material sandwiches together individual layers of atoms, producing a thin film with magnetic polarity that can be flipped from positive to negative or vice versa with small pulses of electricity.
Ref: Atomically engineered ferroic layers yield a room-temperature magnetoelectric multiferroic. Nature (2016) | DOI: 10.1038/nature19343
Materials that exhibit simultaneous order in their electric and magnetic ground states hold promise for use in next-generation memory devices in which electric fields control magnetism. Such materials are exceedingly rare, however, owing to competing requirements for displacive ferroelectricity and magnetism. Despite the recent identification of several new multiferroic materials and magnetoelectric coupling mechanisms, known single-phase multiferroics remain limited by antiferromagnetic or weak ferromagnetic alignments, by a lack of coupling between the order parameters, or by having properties that emerge only well below room temperature, precluding device applications. Here we present a methodology for constructing single-phase multiferroic materials in which ferroelectricity and strong magnetic ordering are coupled near room temperature. Starting with hexagonal LuFeO3—the geometric ferroelectric with the greatest known planar rumpling—we introduce individual monolayers of FeO during growth to construct formula-unit-thick syntactic layers of ferrimagnetic LuFe2O4 within the LuFeO3 matrix, that is, (LuFeO3)m/(LuFe2O4)1 superlattices. The severe rumpling imposed by the neighbouring LuFeO3 drives the ferrimagnetic LuFe2O4 into a simultaneously ferroelectric state, while also reducing the LuFe2O4 spin frustration. This increases the magnetic transition temperature substantially—from 240 kelvin for LuFe2O4 to 281 kelvin for (LuFeO3)3/(LuFe2O4)1. Moreover, the ferroelectric order couples to the ferrimagnetism, enabling direct electric-field control of magnetism at 200 kelvin. Our results demonstrate a design methodology for creating higher-temperature magnetoelectric multiferroics by exploiting a combination of geometric frustration, lattice distortions and epitaxial engineering.