Magnetic sandwich mediating between two worlds

Scientists couple terahertz radiation with spin waves

An international research team led by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) has developed a new method for the efficient coupling of terahertz waves with waves of much shorter wavelengths, so-called spin waves. As the experts report in the journal Nature Physics (DOI:  10.1038/s41567-022-01908-1), their experiments, in combination with theoretical models, clarify the fundamental mechanisms of this process previously thought impossible. The results are an important step for the development of novel, energy-saving spin-based technologies for data processing.

“We were able to efficiently excite high-energy spin waves using terahertz light in a sandwich-like material system consisting of two metal films a few nanometers thick, with a ferromagnetic layer sandwiched in between,” says Dr. Sergey Kovalev of the Institute of Radiation Physics at HZDR, where the experiments were conducted. Electrons have an effective spin which behaves like a spinning top. And like a gyroscope, an external perturbation can tilt the spin’s axis of rotation: A gyroscopic motion, called precession, follows suit. In ferromagnetic materials, there is a very strong interaction between the electron spins, and as a result, a precession started locally continues in the form of a spin wave throughout the ferromagnetic material layer. This is interesting because a spin wave – like any wave – can be used as an information carrier.  While each electron spin is in motion, in the ferromagnets considered it remains in its position in the atomic lattice, therefore no current flow is involved. So, unlike in today’s computer chips, there are no heat losses due to currents in spin-based devices.

Read more on the HZDR website

Image: A terahertz light wave (from left) is converted into a spin wave (right) in a sample of thin metallic layers. In a heavy metal layer (left), electrical currents are first excited by the terahertz field. Within an ultrashort time, the spin Hall effect leads to the accumulation of spins with a certain orientation at the interface with a ferromagnetic layer (right). This directed spin current then triggers a coherent, nanomater-wavelength spin wave in the ferromagnetic material.

Credit: HZDR/Juniks