Local electric-field control of multiferroic spin-spiral domains in TbMnO3
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Spin-spiral multiferroics exhibit a magnetoelectric coupling effects, leading to the formation of hybrid domains with inseparably entangled ferroelectric and antiferromagnetic order parameters. Due to this strong magnetoelectric coupling, conceptually advanced ways for controlling antiferromagnetism become possible and it has been reported that electric fields and laser pulses can reversibly switch the antiferromagnetic order. This switching of antiferromagnetic spin textures is of great interest for the emergent field of antiferromagnetic spintronics. Established approaches, however, require either high voltages or intense laser fields and are currently limited to the micrometer length scale, which forfeits the technological merit. Here, we image and control hybrid multiferroic domains in the spin-spiral system TbMnO3 using low-temperature electrostatic force microscopy (EFM). First, we show that image generation in EFM happens via surface screening charges, which allows for probing the previously hidden magnetically induced ferroelectric order in TbMnO3 (PS = 6 × 10−4 C/m2 ). We then set the antiferromagnetic domain configuration by acting on the surface screening charges with the EFM probe tip. Our study enables detection of entangled ferroelectric and antiferromagnetic domains with high sensitivity. The spatial resolution is limited only by the physical size of the probe tip, introducing a pathway towards controlling antiferromagnetic order at the nanoscale and with low energy.