Dirac Strings and Magnetic Monopoles in the Spin Ice Dy2Ti2O7

Science  16 Oct 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5951, pp. 411-414
DOI: 10.1126/science.1178868

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Magnetic Monopoles

Magnets come with a north and a south pole. Despite being predicted to exist, searches in astronomy and in high-energy particle physics experiments for magnetic monopoles (either north or south on their own) have defied observation. Theoretical work in condensed-matter systems has predicted that spin-ice structures may harbor such elusive particles (see the Perspective by Gingras). Fennell et al. (p. 415, published online 3 September) and Morris et al. (p. 411, published online 3 September) used polarized neutron scattering to probe the spin structure forming in two spin-ice compounds—Ho2Ti2O7 and Dy2Ti2O7—and present results in support of the presence of magnetic monopoles in both materials.


Sources of magnetic fields—magnetic monopoles—have so far proven elusive as elementary particles. Condensed-matter physicists have recently proposed several scenarios of emergent quasiparticles resembling monopoles. A particularly simple proposition pertains to spin ice on the highly frustrated pyrochlore lattice. The spin-ice state is argued to be well described by networks of aligned dipoles resembling solenoidal tubes—classical, and observable, versions of a Dirac string. Where these tubes end, the resulting defects look like magnetic monopoles. We demonstrated, by diffuse neutron scattering, the presence of such strings in the spin ice dysprosium titanate (Dy2Ti2O7). This is achieved by applying a symmetry-breaking magnetic field with which we can manipulate the density and orientation of the strings. In turn, heat capacity is described by a gas of magnetic monopoles interacting via a magnetic Coulomb interaction.

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