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Theory of Current-Driven Domain Wall Motion: Spin Transfer versus Momentum Transfer
Gen Tatara
Graduate School of Science, Osaka University, Toyonaka, Osaka 560-0043, Japan

Hiroshi Kohno
Graduate School of Engineering Science, Osaka University, Toyonaka, Osaka 560-8531, Japan
(Received 22 August 2003; published 26 February 2004)
A self-contained theory of the domain wall dynamics in ferromagnets under finite electric current is
presented. The current has two effects: one is momentum transfer, which is proportional to the charge
current and wall resistivity (w ); the other is spin transfer, proportional to spin current. For thick walls,
as in metallic wires, the latter dominates and the threshold current for wall motion is determined by the
hard-axis magnetic anisotropy, except for the case of very strong pinning. For thin walls, as in
nanocontacts and magnetic semiconductors, the momentum-transfer effect dominates, and the thresh-
old current is proportional to V0 =w , V0 being the pinning potential.

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.92.086601 PACS numbers: 72.25.Pn, 72.15.Gd

Manipulation of magnetization and magnetic domain magnetization. This effect is the dominant one for thick
wall [1] by use of electric current is of special interest walls where the spin of the electron follows the magne-
recently [2 6], from the viewpoint of application to spin- tization adiabatically.
tronics, e.g., novel magnetic devices where the informa- The motion of a domain wall under a steady current is
tion is written electrically, and also as a basic physics in studied in two limiting cases. In the adiabatic case, we
that it involves fascinating angular momentum dynamics. show that even without a pinning force, there is a thresh-
Current-driven motion of a domain wall was studied in old spin current jcr s below which the wall does not move.
a series of pioneering works by Berger [79]. In 1984, he This threshold is proportional to K? , the hard-axis mag-
argued that the electric current exerts a force on the netic anisotropy. Underlying this is that the angular mo-
domain wall via the exchange coupling [8]. Later, in mentum transferred from the electron can be carried by
1992, he discussed that a spin-polarized current (spin both X and 0 , and the latter can completely absorb the
current) exerts a torque on the wall magnetization and spin transfer if the spin current is small, js < jcr s . The
studied the wall motion due to a pulsed spin-polarized pinning potential V0 affects jcr s only if it is very strong,
current [9]. These theoretical works are based on his deep V0 * K? = , where is the damping parameter in the
physical insight but seem to lack transparency as a self- Landau-Lifshits-Gilbert equation. In most real systems
contained theory. Also, their phenomenological character with small , the threshold would thus be determined by
makes the limit of applicability unclear. In view K? . Therefore, the critical current for the adiabatic wall
of recent precise experiments [4 6], a general theory will be controllable by the sample shape and, in particu-
starting from a microscopic description is now needed. lar, by the thickness of the film and does not suffer very
In this Letter, we reformulate the problem of domain much from pinning arising from sample irregularities.
wall dynamics in the presence of electric current This would be a great advantage in application. The
and explore some new features such as current-induced wall
p velocity after depinning is found to be hX_ i /

depinning of the wall. We start from a microscopic js =jcr 2
s   1.
Hamiltonian with an exchange interaction between con- In the case of a thin wall, the wall is driven by the
duction electrons and spins of a domain wall [10]. With a momentum transfer, which is proportional to the charge
key observation that the wall position X and polarization current j and wall resistivity w . The critical current
0 (the angle between spins at the wall center and the density in this case is given by jcr / V0 =w .
easy plane) are the proper collective coordinates [11] to We consider a ferromagnet consisting of localized
describe its dynamics, it follows straightforwardly that spins S and conduction electrons. The spins are assumed
the electric current affects the wall motion in two differ- to have an easy z axis and a hard y axis. In the continuum
ent ways, in agreement with Bergers observation. The approximation, the spin part is described by the
first is as a force on X, or momentum transfer, due to the Lagrangian [12 14]
reflection of conduction electrons. This effect is propor-
tional to the charge current and wall resistance and, Z d3 x  2
hence, is negligible except for very thin walls. The other LS 

h S _ cos1Vpin 
 S fJr2
a3 2
is as a spin torque (a force on 0 ), arising when an 
electron passes through the wall. Nowadays it is also sin2 r2  sin2 K K? sin2 g ; (1)
called as spin transfer [2] between electrons and wall

086601-1 0031-9007=04=92(8)=086601(4)$22.50 2004 The American Physical Society 086601-1


where a is the lattice constant, and we put Sx  tion S0 x  X and nx. We have added a damping term
Ssin cos; sin sin; cos, and J represents the ex- ( ), which represents a standard damping torque (Gilbert
change coupling between localized spins. The longitu- damping), Tdamp   S S  S_ [1]. Note that the spin-
dinal (K) and transverse (K? ) anisotropy constants transfer effect acts as a source to the wall velocity via
incorporate the effect of demagnetizing field. The con- vel  =hNST

el;z .
stants J, K, and K? are all positive. The term Vpin repre- To estimate Fel and vel , we calculate spin polarization
sents pinning due to additional localized anisotropy nx in the presence of a domain wall by use of a local
energy. The exchange interaction between localized spins gauge transformation in spin space [15], cx  Uxax,
and conduction electrons is given by where ax is the two-component electron operator in
the rotated frame, and Ux  mx   is an SU(2)
Z 3
Hint   d xSxcy cx ; (2) matrix with mx  fsin 0 x  X=2
cos0 ; sin 0 x 
S X=2
sin0 ; cos 0 x  X=2
g. The expectation value
where 2 and c (cy ) are the energy splitting and annihi- in the presence of electric current is written in terms
lation (creation) operator of conduction electrons, respec- of the Keldysh-Green function in the rotated frame.
tively, and  is aPPauli-matrix vector. The electron part is For instance, nx x  1  cos0 cos2 0  1
~ nx 1 
given by Hel  k k cyk ck with k  h
2 k2 =2m. cos0  cos0 sin0 n~y sin0 cos0 n~z , where n~" x 
0 y 0
In the absence of Vpin and Hint , the spin part has a static iTr G< xx t; t#"
, G<
x#;x0 #0 t; t   ihax0 ;#0 t ax;# ti,
domain wall of width   J=K1=2 as a classical solution. (#; #   denotes spin) being the lesser component of
We consider a wire with width smaller than  and treat the Keldysh-Green function. After a straightforward cal-
the spin configuration as uniform in the yz plane, perpen- culation, we obtain
dicular to the wire direction x. The solution centered
2  X 2 2k qx
at x  X is given by   0 x  X,   0, where Fel   2
uq fk# #-k q;#  k# ;
cos0 x  tanhx=, and sin0 x   coshx=1 . To L kq# 2m
describe the dynamics of the domain wall, it is crucial to (8)
observe Rthat the weighted average of , defined by
0 t  dx=2x; tsin2 0 x  Xt plays the role and
of momentum conjugate to X and, hence, must be treated

2 X 2
h 2k qx P
as dynamical [14]. Neglecting spin-wave excitations, we vel  uq fk# ; (9)
obtain the Lagrangian for Xt and 0 t as NSL2 kq# 2m k q;#  k#


1 to Rthe lowest order in the interaction (with wall) uq 
LS   X_ 0  K? NS2 sin2 0  Vpin X; (3)
 2  dxeiqx rx 0 x  (= cosh(q=2
. The distribu-
where Vpin X is a pinning potential for X, and N  tion function fk# specifies the current-carrying nonequi-
2A=a3 is the number of spins in the wall. (A is the librium state, and P means taking the principal value.
cross-sectional area.) The equations of motion, derived As is physically expected, Fel is proportional to the
from the Lagrangian, LS  Hint , are given by reflection probability of the electron and, hence, to the
 wall resistivity, as well as to the charge current. In fact,

_ X_ by adopting the linear-response form, fk# f0 k# 
0  Fpin Fel ; (4) eE  v0@f0 =@, as obtained from the Boltzmann equa-
tion (f0 : Fermi distribution function; E: electric field;

NS2 K? v  hk=m;

0: transport relaxation time due to a single
X_  _ 0   sin20 Tel;z ; (5) wall), we can write as Fel  enjRw in one dimension.
Here n and j are the electron density and current density,
where Fpin  @Vpin =@X, respectively, and Rw  h=e2 (2 =82 2 =1  2 2 u2
Z 3 u2  is the wall resistance [16], with 2  kF 
Fel   d xrx S0 x  X  nx; (6) kF =kF kF  and u  ukF kF . More generally,
S one can prove rigorously the relation [17,18]
Z 3 Fel  eNe w j  enRw IA; (10)
T el   d xS0 x  X  nx: (7)
using the Kubo formula, where w  Rw A=L is the resis-
Here S0 denotes Sx with   0 x  X,   0 , and tivity due to a wall [19], I  jA, and Ne  nLA is the
n"  hcy #" ci ("  x; y; z) is (twice) the spin density of total electron number.
conduction electrons. Fel represents a force acting on the Equations (4) and (5) with (9) and (10) constitute a
wall, or momentum transfer, due to the electron flow, main framework of the present Letter. We next go on to
while Tel is a spin torque, or spin transfer, which comes studying them in the two limiting cases: adiabatic wall
from the directional mismatch between wall magnetiza- and abrupt wall.

086601-2 086601-2

We first study the adiabatic limit, which is of interest eS2

for metallic nanowires, where   k1 jcr1  K? : (14)
F . In this limit, we
a3 h

take u2q ! 4( -q and by noting  k q;#  k# q0 

2#  0, we immediately see from Eq. (8) that Fel  0, Above this threshold, js > jcr1
s (j5j > 1), this process
whereas with K? cannot support the transferred spin and the wall
begins a stream motion. The wall velocity after depin-
1 X kx 1 a3 ning is an oscillating function of time around the aver-
vel  # fk#  j (11)
NS L k# m 2S e s age value (Fig. 1)
1 1 a3 2
remains finite. The spin transfer in this adiabatic limit is hX_ i  js  jcr1 s 2 ; (15)
1 2 2S e
thus proportional to spin current P flowing in the bulk

(away from the wall), js  mV k kx fk  fk  (V  which is similar to the Walkers solution for the field-
LA being the system volume). In reality, the spin current driven case [1,24]. (The bracket h  i means time aver-
is controlled only by controlling charge current. In age.) The asymptotic behavior hX_ i / js for js  jscr1 is
the linear-response regime, it is proportional to the governed by the angular momentum conservation (with
charge current j as js  4 j, 4 being a materialPconstant. constant dissipation rate).
This Pparameter can be written as 4  #  We now introduce a pinning potential Vpin and study

P = # #
# P  for
a wire or bulk transport, and 4 

the true depinning of the wall by the spin-transfer
N  N  = N N  for a nanocontact and a effect in the adiabatic limit. Since spin transfer acts as a
force on 0 , the depinning can be better formulated in
tunnel junction, where # and N are band ( ) and
spin (  ) resolved electrical conductivity and density of terms of 0 . We consider a quadratic pinning potential
states at the Fermi energy, respectively, of a homogeneous with a range 8, Vpin  NV0 =82 X2  82 8  jXj,
ferromagnet. Experiments indicate that 4 is of the order where x is the Heaviside step function. Then the equa-
of unity in both bulk transport [20,21] and tunnel junc- tion for 0 reads 1 2  0   _ 0 9 " cos20  
tions (  0:5 [22]). 9 "=2 sin20 vel =
, where "  SK? =h
and 9 
As seen from Eq. (15) below, the speed of the stream 2V0 2 =82 hS.

This equation describes the motion of a
motion of the wall is roughly given by vel (except in the classical particle in a tilted washboard potential V~ with
vicinity of the threshold jcr ). For a lattice constant a  (modified) friction. For vel > vcr  " 2 , local minima
1:5 A  and current density j  1:2  1012 A=m2
[6], we disappear in V~ and 0 is then depinned. Then the above
have a3 j=e  250 m=s
. This speed is expected for equation indicates that 0 starts to drift with average
strongly spin-polarized materials (4  1) including tran- velocity h_ 0 i  vel =  (with oscillating components
sition metals, but is 2 orders of magnitude larger than the neglected). The displacement of Xt inside the pinning
observed value 3 m=s
[6]. This discrepancy may be potential is then obtained from Eqs. (4) and (5) as X
due to dissipation of angular momentum by spin-wave vel =9   Xmax . The depinning of the wall occurs when
emission, which is now under investigation [17]. Xmax > 8, which defines another critical current, jcr2s .
Let us study the wall motion in the absence of pinning, Thus, the critical spin current jcrs will be given by j s
Fpin  0, by solving the equations of motion, (4) and (5) defined above if the pinning is weak (V0 & K? = ), while
in the adiabatic case (Fel  0). The solution with the it is given by
initial condition X  0  0 at t  0 is obtained as
 p jcr2
s  V0 2 =8 (16)
a3 h

5 cot X  1  52 coth6t 1 j5j < 1 (12)

 if the pinning is strong (V0 * K? = ). Since is usually
 52  1 cot6t 1 j5j > 1; (13) believed to be small [9], we expect that the critical
current is mostly determined by K? . This seems to be
where 5  2hv

el =SK?  and 6  =1 consistent with the observations that the critical current is
SK =2h

1  52 . For jvel j < vcr  SK? =2h
(i.e., j5j < 1),
cot X= remains finite as t ! 1, and the wall is not
driven to a stream motion but just displaced by X 
2 sin 5. In this case, the transferred spin is absorbed by
0 and dissipated through K? , as seen from Eq. (5),
and is not used for the translational motion of the wall
(X_ ); the wall is apparently pinned by the transverse
anisotropy. Thus, even without pinning force, the current
cannot drive the wall if the associated spin current is FIG. 1. Time-averaged wall velocity as a function of spin
smaller than the critical value [23] current, js , in the weak pinning case (V0 & K? = ).

086601-3 086601-3

larger for a thinner film [6,9] and does not depend much discussions. G. T. is grateful to Monka-shou, Japan and
on pinning [25]. It would be interesting to carry out The Mitsubishi Foundation for financial support.
measurements on a wire with small K? .
Let us go on to the opposite limit of an abrupt wall,
 ! 0. As seen from Eq. (9), the spin-transfer effect
vanishes. The pinning-depinning transition is thus deter-
mined by the competition between Fel and Fpin , giving [1] A. Hubert and R. Scha fer, Magnetic Domains (Springer-
the critical current density Verlag, Berlin, 1998); F. H. de Leeuw, R. van den Doel,
NV0 2V0  and U. Enz, Rep. Prog. Phys. 43, 659 (1980).
jcr   : (17) [2] J. C. Slonczewski, J. Magn. Magn. Mater. 159, L1 (1996).
8eNe w ena3 8Rw A
[3] Y. Tserkovnyak, A. Brataas, and G. E.W. Bauer, Phys.
The average wall velocity after depinning is obtained as Rev. B 66, 224403 (2002).
hX_ i  2 Ne e=h NS [4] J. Grollier et al., J. Appl. Phys. 92, 4825 (2002); Appl.

w j. This velocity vanishes in the
limit  ! 0 due to the divergence of the wall mass Mw  Phys. Lett. 83, 509 (2003); N. Vernier et al., Europhys.
Lett. 65, 526 (2004).
2 N=K? 2 .
[5] M. Klaui et al., Appl. Phys. Lett. 83, 105 (2003).
For metallic nanocontacts, where 8    a and na3  [6] A. Yamaguchi et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 92, 077205 (2004).
1, experiments indicate that the wall resistance can be of [7] L. Berger, J. Appl. Phys. 49, 2156 (1978).
the order of h=e2  26 k# [26]. Thus jcr  5  1010  [8] L. Berger, J. Appl. Phys. 55, 1954 (1984).
Bc T
, where Bc  V0 ="B 8S is the depinning [9] L. Berger, J. Appl. Phys. 71, 2721 (1992); E. Salhi and
field ("B is Bohr magneton). Bc  103 T
(like in L. Berger, ibid. 73, 6405 (1993).
Ref. [26]) corresponds to jcr  5  107 A=m2
. [10] We neglect the effects of hydromagnetic drag and clas-
In conclusion, we have developed a theory of domain sical Oersted field, which are small in thin wires [5,8].
wall dynamics including the effect of electric current. [11] See, for instance, R. Rajaraman, Solitons and Instantons
The current is shown to have two effects: spin transfer (North-Holland, Amsterdam, 1982), Chap. 8.
and momentum transfer, as pointed out by Berger. For an [12] D. Bouzidi and H. Suhl, Phys. Rev. Lett. 65, 2587 (1990).
[13] H-B. Braun and D. Loss, Phys. Rev. B 53, 3237 (1996).
adiabatic (thick) wall, where the spin-transfer effect due
[14] S. Takagi and G. Tatara, Phys. Rev. B 54, 9920 (1996).
to spin current is dominant, there is a threshold spin [15] G. Tatara and H. Fukuyama, Phys. Rev. Lett. 72, 772

current jcrs  e=a hmaxfK

? ; V0 8g below which the (1994); J. Phys. Soc. Jpn. 63, 2538 (1994).
wall cannot be driven. This threshold is finite even in the [16] G. Tatara and H. Fukuyama, Phys. Rev. Lett. 78, 3773
absence of pinning potential. The wall motion is hence (1997); G. Tatara, J. Phys. Soc. Jpn. 69, 2969 (2000); Int.
not affected by the uncontrollable pinning arising from J. Mod. Phys. B 15, 321 (2001).
sample roughness for weak pinning (V0 & K? = ). In [17] H. Kohno and G. Tatara (to be published).
turn, wall motion would be easily controlled by the [18] The force was related to the charge current in Ref. [8]
sample shape through the demagnetization field and [Eq. (14)] by use of phenomenological parameters under
thus K? .pThe wall velocity after depinning is obtained the assumption that the interband scattering is essential.

 [19] w is proportional to the wall density, i.e., 1=L, and so
as hX_ i / js 2  jcr s  2
. In contrast, an abrupt (thin) wall
Ne w is independent of L.
is driven by the momentum-transfer effect due to charge
[20] I. A. Campbell and A. Fert, in Ferromagnetic Materials,
current, i.e., by reflecting electrons. In this case, the edited by E. P. Wohlfarth (North-Holland, Amsterdam,
depinning current is given in terms of wall resistivity 1982), Vol. 3.
w as jcr / V0 =w . [21] L. Piraux et al., Eur. Phys. J. B 4, 413 (1998).
The two limiting cases considered above are both [22] D. J. Monsma and S. S. P. Parkin, Appl. Phys. Lett. 77, 720
realistic. Most metallic wires fabricated by lithography (2000).
are in the adiabatic limit, as is obvious from the very [23] The same expression was obtained in a different context
small value of wall resistivity [27]. In contrast, a very thin as the critical current for the precession of wall spins in
wall is expected to be formed in metallic magnetic nano- L. Berger, Phys. Rev. B 33, 1572 (1986) [Eq. (5)].
contacts with a large magnetoresistance [26]. A system of [24] In the case of a pulsed current, the wall displacement X
recent interest is magnetic semiconductors [28], where the was plotted as function of current in Fig. 4 of Ref. [9].
[25] S. S. P. Parkin (private communication); T. Ono (private
Fermi wavelength is much longer than in metallic sys-
tems. As suggested by the large magnetoresistance ob- [26] N. Garcia et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 82, 2923 (1999);
served recently [29], magnetic semiconductors would be G. Tatara et al., ibid. 83, 2030 (1999).
suitable for precise measurement in the thin wall limit. [27] A. D. Kent et al., J. Phys. Condens. Matter 13, R461
The authors are grateful to T. Ono for motivating us (2001).
by showing the experimental data prior to publication. [28] H. Ohno, Science 281, 951 (1998).
We also thank J. Shibata and A. Yamaguchi for valuable [29] C. Ruester, Phys. Rev. Lett. 91, 216602 (2003).

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