Distinguishing the ultrafast dynamics of spin and orbital moments in solids
C. Boeglin, E. Beaurepaire, V. Halté, V. López-Flores, C. Stamm, N. Pontius, H. A. Dürr, J.-Y. Bigot
For an isolated quantum particle, such as an electron, the orbital (L) and spin (S) magnetic moments can change provided that the total angular momentum of the particle is conserved. In condensed matter, an efficient transfer between L and S can occur owing to the spin–orbit interaction, which originates in the relativistic motion of electrons. Disentangling the absolute contributions of the orbital and spin angular momenta is challenging, however, as any transfer between the two occurs on femtosecond timescales. Here we investigate such phenomena by using ultrashort optical laser pulses to change the magnetization of a ferromagnetic film and then probe its dynamics with circularly polarized femtosecond X-ray pulses. Our measurements enable us to disentangle the spin and orbital components of the magnetic moment, revealing different dynamics for L and S. We highlight the important role played by the spin–orbit interaction in the ultrafast laser-induced demagnetization of ferromagnetic films, and show also that the magneto-crystalline anisotropy energy is an important quantity to consider in such processes. Our study provides insights into the dynamics in magnetic systems as well as perspectives for the ultrafast control of information in magnetic recording media.