German researchers have found for the first time a regular lattice of magnetic skyrmions (cycloidal vortex spin structures of exceptional stability) – on a surface. This fascinating magnetic structure was discovered by spin-polarized scanning tunneling microscopy and imaged on the atomic scale.

The magnetic skyrmion lattice discovered in Hamburg occurs in an atomically thin film on a surface. The interplay of various magnetic interactions is the cause for the occurrence of this complex structure. While the canting of atomic spins with a certain rotational sense is caused by the antisymmetric Dzyaloshinskii-Moriya interaction, the skyrmions found here can only be induced by the so-called four-spin interaction with the participation of four magnetic atoms.

The magnetic skyrmions found open up completely new possibilities for future applications in the field of Spintronics.

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