Real-space imaging of the atomic-scale magnetic structure of Fe1+yTe

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Science  08 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6197, pp. 653-656
DOI: 10.1126/science.1251682

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Seeing magnetism on an atomic level

Electrons tunneling from the magnetized tip of a scanning tunneling microscope into the surface of a material can reveal the material's magnetic structure. Although researchers have used the technique on simple nanostructures, they've had trouble preparing the tip in just the right way to visualize the magnetic order in more exotic materials. Enayat et al. used a tip with a magnetic cluster on its apex to reveal patterns of magnetic ordering in the material Fe1+yTe, which becomes superconducting by substituting Te with Se atoms. The researchers prepared the tip by simply picking up atoms from the surface of the material.

Science, this issue p. 653


Spin-polarized scanning tunneling microscopy (SP-STM) has been used extensively to study magnetic properties of nanostructures. Using SP-STM to visualize magnetic order in strongly correlated materials on an atomic scale is highly desirable, but challenging. We achieved this goal in iron tellurium (Fe1+yTe), the nonsuperconducting parent compound of the iron chalcogenides, by using a STM tip with a magnetic cluster at its apex. Our images of the magnetic structure reveal that the magnetic order in the monoclinic phase is a unidirectional stripe order; in the orthorhombic phase at higher excess iron concentration (y > 0.12), a transition to a phase with coexisting magnetic orders in both directions is observed. It may be possible to generalize the technique to other high-temperature superconductor families, such as the cuprates.

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