A skyrmion is a topological defect in a ferromagnet. In a two dimensional system, it consists of a configuration in which every possible orientation of the magnetization occurs, “wrapping” the full sphere once. One can visualize it by putting the magnetization down at the origin and up at infinity, and rotating smoothly in a plane containing the radial and vertical directions, between these two orientations. At some radius the magnetization is in the plane, and rotates by 360 degrees as one moves around the origin.

This is a classical topological defect. What happens with quantum mechanics? The skyrmion is finite object, so one might imagine that it could behave as a quantum particle. If it is large, it involves many spins and will be heavy and classical. But if it is small, what happens? Rina Takashima, a graduate student from Kyoto University and a KITP graduate fellow, worked with me on this question and we found that indeed a skyrmion becomes a “quasiparticle”. It has some unusual dynamics and this can lead to interesting physics, for example a sort of “Bose condensation” of skyrmions. So far our work is really focused on chiral magnets, for which the in-plane spin component is fixed by the material. In the future we hope to look at non-chiral ferromagnets, where skyrmions can also occur but where the “chirality” of the in-plane twist is arbitrary and can be spontaneous.

You can read about this in our arXiv preprint.

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