Solid state compounds exhibiting multiple and coupled macroscopic orders, named multiferroics, represent a challenge for both theoretical and experimental modern condensed-matter physics. Spins and the electric polarisation in conventional magnetic and ferroelectric materials can be manipulated on their fundamental timescales, by means of femtosecond laser pulses. In view of the resounding success and popularity of the all-optical approach, it is only natural to wonder about the application of this scheme to study the intrinsic coupling between spins and charges in multiferroics. Deeply fundamental questions arise: can ultrashort laser pulses deterministically activate, enhance or suppress the magnetoelectric coupling on the femtosecond timescale? Can these processes be triggered in a fully coherent fashion, thus being unrestrained by any thermal load? Which mechanism of spin-charge coupling is most favourable to overcome these overarching and daunting challenges? This problem is interdisciplinary in nature, requiring contributions from materials science and condensed matter physics from both theoretical and experimental perspectives. High-quality materials suitable for optical investigations have to be identified, synthetized and characterised. General and valid models offer then a guide to the plethora of possible light-induced processes, resulting in the desired ultrafast multiferroic manipulations. Finally, healthy experimental schemes, able to unambiguously track the ultrafast dynamics of either the ferroelectric or the magnetic order parameter have to be developed and implemented. Our motivation to write this review is to lay a broad and multidisciplinary foundation, which may be employed as a starting point for non-equilibrium approaches to the manipulation of the multiferroicity on the femtosecond timescale. This was also one of the main goals of the COST Action MAGNETOFON, whose network constitutes the core of the authors of this review. The present work thus represents a part of the scientific legacy of MAGNETOFON itself.
- material synthesis and characterisation
- modelling and theory
- ultrafast charge dynamics
- ultrafast spin dynamics
- x-ray spectroscopy