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In materials that exhibit antiferromagnetism, the magnetic moments of atoms or molecules, usually related to the spins of electrons, align in a regular pattern with neighboring spins (on different sublattices) pointing in opposite directions. This is, like ferromagnetism and ferrimagnetism, a manifestation of ordered magnetism. Generally, antiferromagnetic order may exist at sufficiently low temperatures, vanishing at and above a certain temperature, the Néel temperature (named after Louis Néel, who had first identified this type of magnetic ordering).[1] Above the Néel temperature, the material is typically paramagnetic.


Physical origin

An anti-ferromagnetic interaction acts to anti-align neighboring spins. If the energy is expressed as the sum of all pairs, i, j, over an interaction term J(ij), times the spin of atom i times the spin of atom j, J < 0 is a ferromagnetic interaction and J > 0 is an antiferromagnetic interaction. The combination of both can lead to spin glass behavior.

When no external field is applied, the antiferromagnetic structure corresponds to a vanishing total magnetization. In a field, a kind of ferrimagnetic behavior may be displayed in the antiferromagnetic phase, with the absolute value of one of the sublattice magnetizations differing from that of the other sublattice, resulting in a nonzero net magnetization.

The magnetic susceptibility of an antiferromagnetic material typically shows a maximum at the Néel temperature. In contrast, at the transition between the ferromagnetic to the paramagnetic phases the susceptibility will diverge. In the antiferromagnetic case, a divergence is observed in the staggered susceptibility.

Various microscopic (exchange) interactions between the magnetic moments or spins may lead to antiferromagnetic structures. In the simplest case, one may consider an Ising model on an bipartite lattice, e.g. the simple cubic lattice, with couplings between spins at nearest neighbor sites. Depending on the sign of that interaction, ferromagnetic or antiferromagnetic order will result. Geometrical frustration or competing ferro- and antiferromagnetic interactions may lead to different and, perhaps, more complicated magnetic structures.

Geometric frustration

Unlike ferromagnetism, anti-ferromagnetic interactions can lead to multiple optimal states (ground states—states of minimal energy). In one dimension, the anti-ferromagnetic ground state is an alternating series of spins: up, down, up, down, etc. Yet in two dimensions, multiple ground states can occur.

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