Ferromagnetic and ferroelectric: two great properties that go great together!

Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory, with help from researchers at Pennsylvania State University, University of Chicago and Cornell University have confirmed the multiferroic properties of iron titanium oxide (FeTiO3). What’s a multiferroic, you ask? Why, it’s a material that is both ferromagnetic and ferroelectric! “Multiferroic materials show both magnetism and polar order, which are seemingly contradictory properties.”

Scientists from Argonne’s materials science division and Center for Nanoscale Materials along with scientists from Pennsylvania State University, University of Chicago and Cornell University used piezoresponse force microscopy, optical second harmonic generation and magnetometry to show ferroelectricity at and below room temperature and weak ferromagnetism below 120 Kelvin for polycrystalline FeTiO3 synthesized at high pressure.

120 Kelvin is -243 F, so it’s not likely that this material is going to find its way into the next generation of handheld electronics. But the research does open new avenues of exploration and innovation for “memory, sensors, actuators and other multifunctional devices by acting as magnetic switches when their electric fields are reversed.”

FeTiO3 is normally called ilmenite, but there’s no common name for the high pressure phase created by the scientists in this effort. If you want to geek out even more, enjoy reading the Wikipedia entries for ferromagnetic and ferroelectric, both of which describe the term in great detail, and both of which fail, completely, to provide a friendly way to describe the terms!