Crystal order is not restricted to the periodic atomic array, but can also be found in electronic systems such as the Wigner crystal or in the form of orbital order, stripe order and magnetic order. In the case of magnetic order, spins align parallel to each other in ferromagnets and antiparallel in antiferromagnets. In other, less conventional, cases, spins can sometimes form highly nontrivial structures called spin textures. Among them is the unusual, topologically stable skyrmion spin texture, in which the spins point in all the directions wrapping a sphere. The skyrmion configuration in a magnetic solid is anticipated to produce unconventional spin-electronic phenomena such as the topological Hall effect. The crystallization of skyrmions as driven by thermal fluctuations has recently been confirmed in a narrow region of the temperature/magnetic field (T-B) phase diagram in neutron scattering studies of the three-dimensional helical magnets MnSi (ref. 17) and Fe 1x Co x Si (ref. 22). Here we report real-space imaging of a two-dimensional skyrmion lattice in a thin film of Fe 0.5 Co 0.5 Si using Lorentz transmission electron microscopy. With a magnetic field of 50-70 mT applied normal to the film, we observe skyrmions in the form of a hexagonal arrangement of swirling spin textures, with a lattice spacing of 90 nm. The related T-B phase diagram is found to be in good agreement with Monte Carlo simulations. In this two-dimensional case, the skyrmion crystal seems very stable and appears over a wide range of the phase diagram, including near zero temperature. Such a controlled nanometre-scale spin topology in a thin film may be useful in observing unconventional magneto-transport effects.
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