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Magnetism in flatland

The question of what happens to the properties of a material when it is thinned down to atomic-scale thickness has for a long time been a largely hypothetical one. In the past decade, new experimental methods have made it possible to isolate and measure a range of two-dimensional structures, enabling many theoretical predictions to be tested. But it has been a particular challenge to observe intrinsic magnetic effects, which could shed light on the longstanding fundamental question of whether intrinsic long-range magnetic order can robustly exist in two dimensions. In this issue of Nature, two groups address this challenge and report ferromagnetism in atomically thin crystals. Xiang Zhang and colleagues measured atomic layers of Cr2Ge2Te6 and observed ferromagnetic ordering with a transition temperature that, unusually, can be controlled using small magnetic fields. Xiaodong Xu and colleagues measured atomic layers of CrI3 and observed ferromagnetic ordering that, remarkably, was suppressed in double layers of CrI3, but restored in triple layers. The two studies demonstrate a platform with which to test fundamental properties of purely two-dimensional magnets.

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