Magnetic Coulomb Phase in the Spin Ice Ho2Ti2O7

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Science  16 Oct 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5951, pp. 415-417
DOI: 10.1126/science.1177582

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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.


Spin-ice materials are magnetic substances in which the spin directions map onto hydrogen positions in water ice. Their low-temperature magnetic state has been predicted to be a phase that obeys a Gauss’ law and supports magnetic monopole excitations: in short, a Coulomb phase. We used polarized neutron scattering to show that the spin-ice material Ho2Ti2O7 exhibits an almost perfect Coulomb phase. Our result proves the existence of such phases in magnetic materials and strongly supports the magnetic monopole theory of spin ice.

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