Recent developments have led to an explosion of activity on skyrmions in three-dimensional (3D) chiral magnets. Experiments have directly probed these topological spin textures, revealed their nontrivial properties, and led to suggestions for novel applications. However, in 3D the skyrmion crystal phase is observed only in a narrow region of the temperature-field phase diagram. We show here, using a general analysis based on symmetry, that skyrmions are much more readily stabilized in two-dimensional (2D) systems with Rashba spin-orbit coupling. This enhanced stability arises from the competition between field and easy-plane magnetic anisotropy and results in a nontrivial structure in the topological charge density in the core of the skyrmions. We further show that, in a variety of microscopic models for magnetic exchange, the required easy-plane anisotropy naturally arises from the same spin-orbit coupling that is responsible for the chiral Dzyaloshinskii-Moriya interactions. Our results are of particular interest for 2D materials like thin films, surfaces, and oxide interfaces, where broken surface-inversion symmetry and Rashba spin-orbit coupling naturally lead to chiral exchange and easy-plane compass anisotropy. Our theory gives a clear direction for experimental studies of 2D magnetic materials to stabilize skyrmions over a large range of magnetic fields down to T = 0.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy(all)