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Title: Chiral and topological nature of magnetic skyrmions
Author: Zhang, Shilei
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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This work focuses on characterising the chiral and topological nature of magnetic skyrmions in noncentrosymmetric helimagnets. In these materials, the skyrmion lattice phase appears as a long-range-ordered, close-packed lattice of nearly millimetre-level correlation length, while the size of a single skyrmion is 3-100 nm. This is a very challenging range of lengthscales (spanning 5 orders of magnitude from tens of nm to mm) for magnetic characterisation techniques. As a result, only three methods have been proven to be applicable for characterising certain aspects of the magnetic information: neutron diffraction, electron microscopy, and magnetic force microscopy. Nevertheless, none of them reveals the complete information about this fascinating magnetically ordered state. On the largest scale, the skyrmions form a three-dimensional lattice. The lateral structure and the depth profile are of importance for understanding the system. On the mesoscopic scale, the rigid skyrmion lattice can break up into domains, with the domain size about tens to hundreds of micrometers. The information of the domain shape, distribution, and the domain boundary is of great importance for a magnetic system. On the smallest scale, a single skyrmion has an extremely fine structure that is described by the topological winding number, helicity angle, and polarity. These pieces of information reveal the underlying physics of the system, and are currently the focus of spintronics applications. However, so far, there is no experimental technique that allows one to quantitatively study these fine structures. It has to be emphasised that the word 'quantitative' here means that no speculations have to be made and no theoretical modelling is required to assist the data interpretation -- what has been measured must be straightforward, and give a unique and unambiguous answer. Motivated by these questions, we developed soft x-ray scattering techniques that allow us to acquire much deeper microscopic information of the magnetic skyrmions -- reaching far beyond what has been possible so far. We will show that by using only one technique, all the information about the magnetic structure (spanning 5 orders of magnitude in length) can be accurately measured. The thesis is structured as follows: The key development is the Dichroism Extinction Rule, which is summarised in Chapter 6, and quintessentially summarises the thesis. In Chapter 1, the well-established theory for skyrmions is introduced, reconstructing the picture from single skyrmions to the skyrmion crystal. A few comments about the current characterisation techniques will be given. In Chapter 2, we will start with the largest lengthscale, the long-range-ordered skyrmion lattice phase. This is an intensely studied phase, mostly using neutron diffraction, and we will show that this piece of information can be equivalently (or actually even better) obtained using resonant x-ray diffraction. The theoretical foundation of this technique is also given. In Chapter 3, we will demonstrate imaging technique with which we were able to effectively map the skyrmion domains. The measurements also suggest a way to control the formation of skyrmion domains, which might be the key for enabling skyrmion-based device applications. Chapters 4 and 5 present the highlights of this work, in which we will show that using the dichroism extinction rule, the topological winding number and the skyrmion helicity angle can be unambiguously determined. In this sense, this technique is capable of accurately measuring the internal structure of single skyrmions.
Supervisor: Hesjedal, Thorsten Sponsor: Semiconductor Research Corporation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Magnetism ; Condensed matter ; Skyrmion ; thin film ; resonant X-ray scattering