Electric field control of natural optical activity in a multiferroic helimagnet

An optically active spiral

The material cupric oxide exhibits magnetoelectric coupling, meaning that its magnetic properties can be controlled by electric fields. In its spin spiral phase, cupric oxide has a spiral magnetic ordering that can be right- or left-handed. Masuda et al. used electric fields to create purely left- or right-handed samples and then studied their optical activity. The samples exhibited natural optical activity, which the researchers were then able to control with electric fields.

Science, this issue p. 496


Controlling the chiral degree of freedom in matter has long been an important issue for many fields of science. The spin-spiral order, which exhibits a strong magnetoelectric coupling, gives rise to chirality irrespective of the atomic arrangement of matter. Here, we report the resonantly enhanced natural optical activity on the electrically active magnetic excitation, that is, electromagnon, in multiferroic cupric oxide. The electric field control of the natural optical activity is demonstrated through magnetically induced chirality endowed with magnetoelectric coupling. These optical properties inherent to multiferroics may lead to optical devices based on the control of chirality.

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