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In the previous chapters we introduced and discussed the principal energy contributions that we expect in a ferromagnet: magnetostatic energy, exchange, anisotropy. It is the competition between these energies that gives rise to magnetic domains and is eventually responsible for the hysteresis phenomena observed in magnetic materials. The final step that we need, before being able to properly address these aspects, is to make the whole description space-dependent. After all, a domain structure is just a configuration in which the magnetization drastically changes from point to point in space. In this chapter, we discuss how to deal with space-dependent energy densities (Section 6.1) and how to use them to determine the minimum energy states occupied by the system (Section 6.2). In principle, the guidelines are not much different from the ones discussed in Chapter 2. One has a free energy GL(X;H~) and looks for the set of local minima, characterized by 3GL/3X = 0, that represent possible metastable states for the system. The great complication is that, in the space-dependent approach, X is not just a number, but represents the full magnetization vector field M(r) defined over the entire body volume. The energy minimization has to be carried out in the infinite-dimensional functional space of all possible magnetization configurations, a point that leads to nontrivial conceptual and mathematical difficulties. This program is often referred to by the name micromagnetics. The equations that express the condition of minimum for a given magnetization configuration are discussed in Section 6.2 and are known as Brown's equations, after W. F. Brown, who formulated this approach in general terms and clarified its limits. Brown's equations give a proper mathematical and physical foundation to the description of magnetic materials. As will be further discussed in Chapter 7, they serve as the basis for the interpretation of magnetic domain structures, and for the analysis of those situations where the domain concept fails.


CHAPTER 6 Micromagnetics

We already know that the principal energy terms that control the behavior of a ferromagnetic body are magnetostatic energy, discussed in Chapter 4, and then exchange and anisotropy, either of magnetocrystalline or magnetoelastic origin, considered in Chapter 5. We also mentioned shape anisotropy, but that is just magnetostatic energy again, considered from a different viewpoint. Exchange and anisotropy, however, were analyzed in the restrictive case of a uniformly magnetized volume. No dependence of the magnetization vector on space coordinates was introduced. This is not adequate. Magnetic materials exhibit complicated magnetization patterns, and we need a space-dependent approach in order to be able to treat and interpret such situations.

6.1.1 Space-dependent free energy densities

In order to deal with space-dependent magnetization patterns, we come back to the idea, introduced at the beginning of Chapter 3, of working with appropriate elementary volumes AV, in order to average out all those fine-scale details eventually unimportant to our purposes. We suppose then to have a ferromagnetic body and to subdivide it into many elementary volumes AV. We want AV to be small enough with respect to the characteristic lengths over which the magnetization varies significantly, so that we can consider each volume as having uniform properties. At the same time, we want AV to be large enough to contain a significant number of elementary magnetic moments, so that we can make use of statistical and thermodynamic methods to describe the properties of the volume. This approximation leads to a substantially simplified description in terms of smooth space-dependent variables (e.g., magnetization M(r)), to be interpreted as AV-averages, in the sense of Eq. (3.1). The price that we have to pay is that with this approach, we have no possibility to describe fine-scale phenomena taking place over atomic distances. Given the generic elementary volume AV placed around the position r, we indicate its free energy by AGL[M(r); Ha, T], where M(r) is its magnetization and Ha some externally applied field. We recall (see Section 2.1.4) that Gc is the free energy that we expect when the system (in this case the volume AV) is constrained to have a specific value of the state variable M. As discussed in Chapter 2, this description implies a separation of time scales. We are assuming in fact that the relaxation time over which individual elementary volumes reach thermodynamic equilibrium with respect to the given local value of M is much shorter than the time



over which the system as a whole approaches equilibrium through time changes of M(r). What can we say about the energy Z~GL of the volume AV? Exchange, anisotropy, magnetostatic energy, and interaction with the applied field will jointly contribute to it. Let us discuss these terms one at a time. We assume to be at some fixed temperature well below the Curie point.
Exchange. We can apply to ZkVthe molecular field considerations discussed in Chapter 5 and conclude that z~V is characterized by a local magnetization vector M(r) of intensity equal to the spontaneous magnetization Ms(T ). Due to the isotropy of exchange, any direction is in principle acceptable for M(r), and we expect that in general different elementary volumes will be characterized by magnetization vectors pointing along different directions. In addition, at temperatures not too close to the Curie temperature, the field dependence of the spontaneous magnetization is very weak (see Eq. (5.29)) and M s is, to a very good approximation, a function of temperature only. Accordingly, the exchange energy also reduces to a function of T only. At fixed temperature, we just have a constant contribution to the free energy.

AF~x = const. ZkV


At low temperatures, the existence of exchange is merely reduced to a constraint on M(r). The orientation of M can change from point to point in space, but its modulus is constrained to have the fixed value M s. In the following, we shall constantly work under this approximation. Accordingly, the validity of the results obtained in this chapter will be limited to temperatures well below the Curie point.
Anisotropy. Anisotropy energy depends on the relative orientation of the local magnetization M(r) with respect to certain preferred directions. In a perfect single crystal where only magnetocrystalline anisotropy is important, these directions will be the same everywhere. However, in a polycrystal or in a system with random quenched-in stresses giving rise to local stress anisotropy, the preferred axes and the value of the anisotropy constants will change from point to point. If we generically indicate by n(r) the set of local preferred axes and anisotropy constants, we can express the anisotropy energy of z~V in the form z~FAN = fAN[M(r);n(r)] AV


where fAN is the anisotropy energy density.

Magnetostatic energy. Magnetostatic energy is potential energy of magnetic moments in the field they have created. It can be expressed as an integral


CHAPTER 6 Micromagnetics

over the body volume (Eq. (4.7)), which shows that the contribution associated with each elementary volume is
,(z0 AFM = ---~ H M. M AV


where H M is the solution of magnetostatic equations, Eq. (4.12).

Interaction with applied field. This is potential energy of magnetic moments in the applied field H a, and as such it is given by (Eq. 3.77)
AFH = -/z0H a 9 M AV If we put together all these contributions, we have AGL[M(r);H~] = const. +fAN(M;n) ---~- HM" M -/xoH ~ 9M zXV (6.5) (6.4)

At this point, one might think that the total energy of the system is just the sum of the energies of all elementary volumes: Gr = ~ aGr


but this would be wrong. In so thinking, we miss an essential contribution, still dependent on exchange.

Exchange again. Whenever M(r) changes orientation from point to point, we have some misalignment of neighboring magnetic moments, and this costs extra exchange energy. This conclusion is evident if we consider for instance the Heisenberg Hamiltonian, Eq. (5.19). If Si is not parallel to its neighbor Sj, the scalar product decreases and the energy (under positive Jij) increases. It is this nonuniformity energy that is usually meant when one speaks of exchange energy. The constant contribution given by Eq. (6.1) plays no role at fixed temperature, and can be absorbed in the choice of the zero energy level. Under this interpretation, exchange energy is present only when the direction of magnetization varies in space, that is, when the gradients, Vm x, Vmy, Vm z, of the unit magnetization vector
re(r) = M(r) Ms (6.7)

are different from zero. If the variation of m from point to point is not too rapid, we can make a Taylor expansion of the exchange energy as a function of the magnetization gradients. The exact form of the expansion will depend on the symmetry of the lattice hosting the magnetic moments.



The lowest-order term in the energy density consistent with cubic symmetry is

rEX = const. + A (IVmxl2 + IVmyl2 + IVmzl2)


For crystals with lower symmetry one expects more complicated expressions involving several constants, but Eq. (6.8) is usually a good approximation to most cases. The importance of the exchange contribution is measured by the phenomenological constant A, which summarizes the effect of short-range exchange interactions. One can get an idea of the relation of A to atomic-scale parameters from Eq. (5.19), by interpreting Si as a classical vector and by limiting the sum to nearest neighbors only. One finds that A --- kJS2/a, where J is the nearest-neighbor exchange integral, S is the spin magnitude, a is the lattice constant, and k is a numeric factor of the order of unity; dependent on the lattice symmetry. The precise value of A changes from material to material, but A -~ 1 0 -11 J m-1 can be a good approximation in many cases. Values of A for different materials can be found in Appendix D. A satisfactory energy expression is obtained by using Eq. (6.8), instead of Eq. (6.1), for the exchange energy in Eq. (6.5), and by summing up over all elementary volumes. The sum can be safely transformed into a space integral, and M can be expressed as M = Ms m. The result is

GL[M(.);Ha] = f [ A

(]Vmxl2 + [Vmy]2 + [Vmz]2)


+ fAN(re;n) -- -~- MsH M 9 m - ]x0MsHa 9 m


] d3r

where the integration is carried out over the body volume V. In the following, we shall use (Vm) 2 as a shorthand notation for ]Vmxl2 + IVmy]2 + IVmz[2, and we shall write Eq. (6.9) in the form GL[M(.);Ha] = (6.10)

f ( A (Vm) 2 +fAm(m;n) ---~ /a'~ sHM.m -- ~ / I s H a 9m ) d3r


The description is completed by the magnetostatic equations (Eq. 4.12) describing the dependence of the magnetostatic field H M on magnetization: V-H M = -V.(Msm) VxH M =0 (6.11)


CHAPTER 6 Micromagnetics

We recall that this amounts to expressing H M as the gradient of the magnetostatic potential ~M, HM = -V~M, where ~M is given by Eq. (3.46). According to Eq. (6.11), the relation between H M and m is nonlocal. The knowledge of m in the neighborhood of a certain point r is not sufficient to determine I-IM. Magnetic charges even far away from r may contribute to the magnetostatic field. From this viewpoint, a comment about the interpretation of Eq. (6.3) is appropriate. It is certainly true that magnetostatic energy is expressible as a sum over elementary volumes, but it is not true that Eq. (6.3) expresses a local property of &V only, as is the case, for instance, for the anisotropy energy, Eq. (6.2). In the hypothetical case where we could extract AV from the rest of the body without modifying m, the anisotropy energy of the volume would remain exactly the same, but its magnetostatic energy would be completely different, and would be determined by the particular geometrical shape of AV after the extraction. This shows that it is only after defining the geometry of the problem and after selecting a particular magnetization distribution m(r) for the entire body that it is possible to attribute a well-defined magnetostatic energy to each elementary volume AV, as in Eq. (6.3). Equation (6.10) represents the free energy of the body when the magnetization behavior in space, represented by the vector function M(r), is prescribed. Gc is a function of another function. The term functional is used to express this concept, and the dot in the notation GL[M(.)] is just a reminder for the fact that GL is not a function of the magnetization value at some specific point, but depends on the overall functional dependence of M on r. Being able to write an expression like Eq. (6.10) for the system free energy depends on the assumption that thermodynamic equilibrium exists in each elementary volume &V even if the system is not globally in equilibrium. In other words, one assumes that local relaxation times inside each volume &V are negligibly small with respect to the time scale over which the system globally approaches equilibrium. As shown in Section 2.1.4 (Eq. 2.20), this separation of time scales permits one to calculate thermodynamic averages in two steps, by first averaging over all microscopic states giving a certain M(r) in each elementary volume and then over all possible M(.) functions. One can write an equation analogous to Eq. (2.20), exp(G(Ha'T)~~BT]--M~.(.) exp(

GL[M(');Ha' z T]~~B ]


where G is the Gibbs free energy and GL is the Landau free energy, of which Eq. (6.10) represents an approximate estimate. The sum appearing in Eq. (6.12) is a formal notation for the complex operation translating



into precise mathematical terms the heuristic suggestion of taking the integral of the exponential over all M(.) functions compatible with the requirements of the problem. Note that GL, being defined through local averages over AV volumes, depends on the size of AV, even if this is not explicitly indicated. The term coarse-grained free energy is often used in statistical mechanics to refer to functions analogous to GL, where some averaging over elementary volumes is involved. We can repeat for Eq. (6.12) the considerations made in Section 2.1.4, when we first analyzed the connection between hysteresis and metastability. The situation is perfectly analogous. Local GL minima represent metastable states in which the system tends to remain for long times if thermal agitation is not important. In the limit of zero temperature, the set of all local minima represents the set of possible states that the system may occupy under a given external field. There are, however, two important differences that should not be overlooked. The system considered in Section 2.1.4 was characterized by a single state variable X. Drawing the energy profile, as we did in Fig. 2.3, was easy, because this was just a one-dimensional plot. The role of X is now played by the entire function M(.). Figure 2.3 would now be impossible to draw, because it should be drawn as an infinite-dimensional plot, representing the GL behavior in the infinite-dimensional space of all possible M(.) functions. In this space, metastable states are represented by certain particular functions, say Mms(.), which have the property that GL[M(.)] -> GL[Mms(.)] when GL[M(.)] is calculated for any function M(.) close enough to Mms(.). How to determine these functions is discussed later, in Section 6.2. For the moment we just r e m a r k - - a n d this is the second main difference from the treatment of Section 2.1.4--that a system of this sort will exhibit nonlocal memory when we consider the field dependence of its total magnetic moment. In fact, the knowledge of the moment and of the field will by no means be sufficient to identify the state of the system. The role of state variable is now played by the entire function M(.) and in principle we expect that, for any fixed value of the external field, many different magnetization configurations will exist, characterized by practically identical values of the total moment. The conclusions of this analysis may be discouraging. The problem of identifying the whole set of local energy minima in some infinitedimensional space gives the impression of being, and really is, something highly nontrivial from the mathematical point of view and difficult to visualize in its essential physical consequences. On the other hand, this description is at the heart of what a ferromagnetic material is, and some physical insight is necessary before proceeding. In the following sections, we try to unravel some of the key features of the problem by semiqualita-


CHAPTER 6 Micromagnetics

tive arguments, together with some order-of-magnitude estimate. The conclusions will not be accurate from the quantitative viewpoint, but will hopefully show where the points of chief physical importance are.

6.1.2 Characteristic parameters

As a first step, let us introduce some simplifying assumptions that will allow us to write Eq. (6.10) in a simpler and more tractable form. In a generic material with space-dependent properties (like a polycrystal, or a particle assembly, or an alloy with compositional fluctuations from point to point, and so on) all the parameters of Eq. (6.10), the exchange constant A, the anisotropy parameters present in fAN, the spontaneous magnetization M s itself, may be space-dependent. For the moment, we neglect these dependencies and we assume that all the mentioned quantities are constant in space. In other words, we treat a perfect, defect-free single crystal of given geometrical shape. The next step is to express the system energy in dimensionless form, by introducing appropriate dimensionless quantities,
= GL

hM -- Ms


- Ms



]zoM2s V

In addition, we introduce the dimensionless anisotropy function 1 tim) defined as tim) = g V f AN(m) ,:/xI


where K1 is the first anisotropy constant appearing in Eq. (5.32) or Eq. (5.37), which we assume to be positive, f(m) is a function taking values of the order of unity. In terms of these quantities, Eq. (6.10) and Eq. (6.11) become
gL[m(');ha] = gEX + gaN + gM + gH

(6.15) ~ h M . m -- h a . m

= v and

/-----(Vm) 2 + Kf(m)

V" h M = - V " m VXhM=0


1The dependence on the anisotropy parameters n, which are just constants, is understood.



In Eq. (6.15), gEX, gAN, gM and gH represent the average densities of the exchange, anisotropy, magnetostatic, and field energies, respectively. Equation (6.15) contains two interesting quantities, the dimensionless parameter 2K1 _ -- HAN
2 Ms (6.17)

where HAN is the anisotropy field discussed in Section 5.2 (Eq. (5.34)), and the characteristic length





These parameters can be used to classify certain general aspects of interest.

Soft and hard materials. The parameter K of Eq. (6.17) is equal to the ratio of the anisotropy field HAN to the spontaneous magnetization Ms. This ratio gives a natural measure of the relative strength of anisotropy and magnetostatic effects. Magnetostatic effects dominate in soft materials, for which K < < 1. Conversely, anisotropy tends to dominate in hard materials, where K > 1. Values of K for typical materials are given in Appendix D. Small and large bodies. The characteristic length IEX defined by Eq. (6.18) is called exchange length. The existence of such a characteristic length gives a natural unit in terms of which to decide whether a certain body is "small" or "large." As will be discussed shortly, the main difference lies in the fact that "small" bodies prefer to be uniformly magnetized, whereas "large" bodies tend to develop nonuniform, complicated magnetization patterns. Note that, given the dimensions of the parameters involved in the problem, A ([J m-l]), K1 ([J m-3]),/.toM2 ([J m-3]), it is possible to define other characteristic lengths in addition to IEX, namely IEX lw = , / A = ~
u and



Their physical meaning is discussed in the next section. Note that ID < < IEX < < lw in a soft material, whereas lw < IEX < ID in a hard magnet. Typical values of IEX are given in Appendix D.


CHAPTER 6 Micromagnetics

6.1.3 Competing energies

In Section 6.1.1, we discussed the fact that the magnetization configuration of a ferromagnetic body should be such as to minimize its free energy, expressed by Eq. (6.15). The nontrivial mathematical procedure by which this minimization is carried out is discussed in Section 6.2. Yet, before that it may be helpful to get some insight into the physical aspects of the problem by trying an estimate of the order of magnitude of the various energy terms involved, in order to figure out which are the dominant contributions to be expected under different circumstances. This shall also clarify the meaning and the role of the parameters K and lEx defined by Eq. (6.17) and Eq. (6.18). The analysis that we are going to present is just a little more than an order-of-magnitude estimate. The quantitative details have a limited value, but the conclusions are of general validity and will serve as the basis for further developments. We consider a body of linear dimensions of the order of R, e.g., a sphere of radius R (see Fig. 6.1). We assume that no external field is applied. Because we have not yet developed a general energy minimization procedure, we do not know what the magnetization configuration of minimum energy should look like. For the moment, we can just draw some qualitative conclusion from the form of the three integrals, gEx, gAN, and gM, contributing to Eq. (6.15). Each term has its own properties.

Exchange, gEX. Exchange favors parallel alignment of m over the entire body. The direction of m has no influence, but any configuration where m varies in space costs some exchange energy. Anisotropy, gAN. Anisotropy favors local alignment of m to certain preferred directions (easy axes). Unlike exchange, anisotropy expresses a property that is only a function of the given position in space. This means that any arbitrary mixture of regions where m points along different

FIGURE 6.1. Hypothetical low-energy configurations. (a) Uniform magnetization; (b) domain structure; (c) vortex structure.



easy axes is acceptable. Additional energy only comes in when m points somewhere away from an easy axis.

Magnetostatic energy, gM. Here subtler considerations are needed. We showed in Section 4.1.1 that magnetostatic energy can be expressed in one of the two equivalent forms, ]z___flo fH2Md3r = 2
all space

/~o fHM . M d3r 2



The latter is employed in Eq. (6.15), but the former is more suited to order-of-magnitude estimates. We have the integral over all space of the positive quantity H 2, which shows that the energy is lower whenever H M takes small values over large regions of space. We know that the far field created by a body is the dipole field, Eq. (3.23), controlled by the total magnetic moment of the body. If the magnetization configuration is such that it entails a null total magnetic moment, the far field, and consequently the magnetostatic energy, is strongly reduced. The conclusion is that magnetostatic energy favors configurations where the magnetization follows closed paths inside the body, so that no net magnetic moment is produced. This contradicts the requirements under which one obtains low exchange energy. A competition between the various energy terms is expected. In Fig. 6.1, we have represented three configurations that we propose as reasonable low-energy candidates. We imagine that the sphere has uniaxial anisotropy along the vertical direction and we indicate by 8 the angle of the magnetization vector to this direction. Configuration (a) possesses neither exchange nor anisotropy energy, but it entails substantial magnetostatic energy. Conversely, configurations (b) and (c) are attempts to create a zero-magnetic-moment arrangement of low magnetostatic energy, at the expense, however, of some exchange and anisotropy energy. The main difference between the two configurations is that in (b) the magnetization passes from the up to the down orientation in a finite transition layer, represented by the shaded region, whereas in (c) we have some vortex configuration extending over the whole body. Anticipating a little of what will be discussed in the next chapter, we can say that case (b) is a typical magnetic domain configuration, with two domains (the two white regions) separated by a domain wall (the shaded interface). Let us make an estimate of the energy of the three configurations.

Configuration (a). This configuration entails neither exchange nor anisotropy energy. Therefore, in Eq. (6.15), gEx = gAN = 0. In addition, if we


CHAPTER 6 Micrornagnetics

assume that the body is a sphere with a demagnetizing factor of 1/~,then

gM = 89 In conclusion

1 ga = gEx + gAN + gM = g


The energy density is independent of the body size. This is the direct consequence of the long-range nature of magnetostatic interactions (Section 3.2.3).
Configuration (b). In this configuration, the body is divided into two domains, in each of which the magnetization points along the easy axis. The domains are separated by a domain wall of thickness z~, in which m gradually passes from the up to the down orientation. We can imagine 2 that this takes place by the rotation of m out of the plane of Fig. 6.1. In this case, two m components vary by a factor of the order of I over a distance of the order of A/2, so that, inside the domain wall, ( V m ) 2 --- 8 / A 2. By taking into account that the wall occupies a fraction ---A/R of the total sphere volume, we conclude from Eq. (6.15) that g~x "" (412x/A2) ( A / R ) . T h e domain wall also entails some anisotropy energy. In the presence of uniaxial anisotropy, the function tim) of Eq. (6.14) and Eq. (6.15) is given by f = sin2t~/2. The average of sinat~ gives a factor 1A, which means that the average anisotropy energy density will be gAN "" ( K / 4 ) ( A / R ) . Finally, we expect the magnetostatic energy to be substantially reduced by the formation of the domains. Stray fields will persist in near-space around the two domains and contribute some magnetostatic energy, but we just neglect this effect and take gM "" O. Our qualitative conclusions will not critically depend on this oversimplification. In conclusion

1~ 412x ~ ) g~ = gEx + gAN + gM ~ ~ \ - ~ +


There is a substantial difference between this case and the previous one. In the configuration we are considering, there is an additional parameter, the wall thickness A, which is for the moment undetermined. The value of A is itself controlled by the general principle that the energy of a given configuration should be as low as possible. Inside the wall, there is a concentration of both exchange and anisotropy energy. We see from Eq. (6.23) that exchange decreases with increasing A, because lower magnetization gradients are involved, whereas the opposite occurs for anisotropy, because the volume where m points away from the easy axis increases
2This point will be discussed in much more detail in the next chapter.



with A. The configuration of minimum energy is obtained by imposing dg b / d A = 0. This gives the solution
lEX A= 4~ __

4l w


Equation (6.24) shows that the characteristic length l w of Eq. (6.19) gives the order of magnitude of the thickness of the wall separating the two domains. By substituting Eq. (6.24) into Eq. (6.23), we obtain for the energy of the domain configuration:
gb ~

2IExXFK-- 21D R R


Note that, for the domain configuration to exist, the wall thickness must be smaller than the body size. According to Eq. (6.24), this occurs for R > 2l w. It is only in this interval that Eq. (6.25) is meaningful. For lower sizes, the wall tends to occupy the whole body and configuration (b) becomes indistinguishable from configuration (c), discussed next.
Configuration (c). Without going into details of what the vortex structure might look like, we note that in this configuration the effect of exchange and anisotropy is spread all over the body. Therefore, the situation is close to what one would expect for configuration (b) when A ~ 2R. Because even for configuration (c) we expect a negligible contribution from magnetostatic energy, and we expect configuration (b) to smoothly transform into configuration (c) when the body size decreases, we just take for the energy of configuration (c) the expression obtained by setting A = 2R in Eq. (6.23):


gc = gEX + gAN 4- gM -~ ~R 2 4- -2


Let us now examine the consequences of this energy estimate in the case of a soft and a hard material.
Soft material (K = 0.1). The situation is shown in Fig. 6.2. We see that, when the body is sufficiently small, the uniform magnetization state is definitely the one of lowest energy. Varying the magnetization orientation over distances shorter than the exchange length IEX uses too much exchange energy and is not favored. The critical radius Rcl at which the uniform magnetization state becomes the favored one is the one at which ga = gc (see Eq. (6.22) and Eq. (6.26)). We find Rcl

V'I - 3 K




CHAPTER 6 Micromagnetics





i .....

.... i:;, ..........................................................

""" 9C






FIGURE 6.2. Soft material (K = 0.1). Energy comparison for configurations (a) (Eq. (6.22)), (b)(Eq. (6.25)), (c)(Eq. (6.26)). When K -----89 Rcl --~ oo. This divergence indicates that the anisotropy is so large that the vortex structure uses too much energy whatever the body size. In this sense, K = 1/~ appears as the natural boundary between soft and hard materials. When R > 2l~ the domain configuration, (b), also becomes possible. According to Fig. 6.2, configuration (b) seems to be favored at large R, but the energy of configurations (b) and (c) is quite close and no definite conclusion can be drawn. We recall that we completely neglected magnetostatic energy for these configurations. In addition, with increasing body size, other configurations, for instance involving more than two domains or more complicated vortex structures, might be more energy efficient. All of this can only be treated in the frame of more rigorous, quantitative approaches, going beyond the present rough estimates.
Hard material (K = 1). The situation here is qualitatively different (Fig.

6.3). The vortex structure is out of the picture, because of its high anisotropy energy cost. The uniform magnetization configuration is still favored at small sizes. The domain structure has lower energy when R exceeds the critical radius Re2 at which ga = gb (see Eq. (6.22) and Eq. (6.25)). We find Re2 ~ 12l D. The value of ac2 would increase if we included some estimate of the magnetostatic energy of the domain configuration, which was completely neglected. For instance, assuming that the formation of two domains reduces to one-half the magnetostatic energy of the uniform










R/IEx FIGURE 6.3. Hard material (K = 1). Energy comparison for configurations (a) (Eq. 6.22), (b) (Eq. 6.25), (c) (Eq. 6.26). magnetization state, i.e., gM -~ 1~2, would give Rc2 -~ 24lD. Following the first estimates of Rc2 by C. Kittel, the relation
Rc2 ~- 18lD


is usually employed to estimate the critical size for domain formation. Some general conclusions can be drawn from this analysis, which can be summarized as follows.
Small particles. A small enough magnetic particle prefers to be uniformly magnetized along one of its anisotropy easy directions. Which direction and orientation is actually realized will depend in general on the applied field history. Large bodies. A large enough magnetic body develops complicated magnetization configurations, in the form of vortex or domain structures, in the attempt to find a compromise between the competing effects of exchange, anisotropy, and magnetostatic energy. What we have considered here is just a pale anticipation of the astonishing richness of possibilities observed in bulk materials. The next chapter is devoted to this aspect. Hysteresis. When many magnetization configurations with different energies are possible, in general it is by no means true that the configuration of lowest energy will be the one actually realized in the body. Each configu-


CHAPTER 6 Micromagnetics

ration represents a metastable state, separated from other states by some energy barrier. What state is actually realized in the material does not depend solely on its energy; but also (and mainly) by the applied field history. Going back to Fig. 6.3, where we stated that configurations with domains are favored in large bodies, one should realize that this statement by no means clarifies how the domain configuration can be created starting from the uniform magnetization state certainly existing under large fields. Which configurations are visited when the external field is reduced starting from saturation is at the heart of hysteresis phenomena and will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 11.

Magnetization configurations. The approach followed in this section gives

evidence of a general problem that one continuously encounters in the study of magnetic materials. We have based our discussion on the comparison of three configurations, (a), (b), and (c), presented as "reasonable low-energy candidates." However, the choice of these configurations is nothing more than a plausible guess, by no means justified on rigorous grounds. There is nothing excluding the possible existence of other configurations with even lower energy that we failed to imagine. In addition, we do not even know if the configurations considered are stable, or if, once created, they would quickly evolve toward other states. The rigorous search for minimum energy configurations is discussed in the next section, but, as we shall see, it turns out to be too complex to be directly applicable to realistic large bodies, where complicated domain structures are expected. It then becomes inevitable to try some initial guess of the expected configuration, described in terms of a certain number of parameters that one then adjusts in order to get the lowest possible energy. This was the case, for example, for the wall thickness A in configuration (b). The value of the results obtained rests very much on the validity of the initial guess about the expected configuration. In this respect, domain theory, discussed in the next chapter, is a sort of very general guess based on well-assessed experimental facts.

Magnetostatic effects. Throughout the discussion, we have assumed a body

of spherical shape. Changing the geometry implies a change in the estimate of the magnetostatic energy and consequently in the scale of the problem. For example, in an elongated particle, the state of uniform magnetization along the long axis will be energetically favored up to larger sizes, because of the reduced demagnetizing factor. This change of scale may have extreme consequences in bodies with closed-ring geometry, like the ones shown in Fig. 3.5, where demagnetizing fields are negligible. This also makes clear that our analysis of the energy dependence on particle size could be carried out in simple terms because we considered



a body of variable size but identical shape. This is essential in order to keep fixed the estimate of the magnetostatic energy, which depends on geometrical shape but not on size.

6.2 M I C R O M A G N E T I C E Q U A T I O N S
In this section we discuss on more rigorous grounds the problem of determining the magnetization configurations realized in a body whose free energy is given by Eq. (6.10). In principle, the problem is well defined. We have a certain energy GL(X;H,,), dependent on a certain state variable X. We are interested in all possible local energy minima, that is, in all states for which OGL/3X = 0 and c92GL/3X 2 > 0. Once we find the set of solutions, we have complete information on the metastable states existing under the given external field H a, which is the basis for the description of the hysteresis properties of the system. As we mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, the difficulty lies in the fact that in our case X is not just a number, but is the entire vector field M(.) defined over the body volume. The search for local minima amounts to a variational estimate, where we have to determine those configurations M(.) such that, when we modify them by the small arbitrary variation 6M(.), we certainly obtain a positive variation 8GL in the energy. Before discussing, in Section 6.2.2, the technical details of how this is done in practice, we first present the final result and we discuss its physical meaning.

6.2.1 Brown's equations

The solution of the variational problem just described takes the form of a stability condition to be fulfilled at equilibrium. This condition is expressed in terms of an effective field Her f defined at each point inside the body. With reference to the variables and quantities of Eq. (6.10), this field is equal to Heff-


V. (Arm)

/x0Ms 0m

OfAN+ HM + Ha


As might be expected, Her f contains the applied field and the magnetostatic field. In addition, there are two other contributions arising from


CHAPTER 6 Micromagnetics

exchange and anisotropy. 3 The effective field exerts a torque on the magnetization. For the system to be in equilibrium, this torque must be zero. The stability condition that must be fulfilled at each point inside the body is thus
m x Hey / = 0


If we decompose the effective field into the components parallel and perpendicular to m, Hey / -- Hll + H~, then the stability condition given by Eq. (6.30) is equivalent to imposing H = 0. No requirement is made about H,. This reflects the approximation that we previously introduced (see Section 5.1.3), when we assumed the spontaneous magnetization Ms to be independent of field. That approximation is equivalent to assuming that the molecular-field potential well around [M[ = M s is so steep that it automatically balances to zero any field component H, acting along the direction of the magnetization. Brown's equations are completed by a boundary condition for m. On the surface of the body, one has


= 0


where 3/3n indicates the derivative in the outside direction normal to the body surface. Notice that the derivative of m is necessarily perpendicular to m itself, because its modulus is fixed. This permits one to express the boundary condition in the simpler form


= 0


The normal derivative may not be zero if one has surface anisotropy effects, which introduce an additional torque on the magnetization at the surface. This aspect will not be considered. The input information that must be given in advance to solve the problem is information on the material (A, Ms, and the form of the anisotropy energy fAN(re;n), all possibly dependent on space coordinates), information on the geometrical shape of the body, and information on the external field H a. The magnetization vector re(r) must be such that, once we calculate Hey/from it, we find that Eq. (6.30) is fulfilled. Particularly delicate is the role played by the magnetostatic field H M, given the nonlocal relation existing between H M and m. 3Due to the presence of these two terms, Hef f is not just a magnetic field in the sense of Maxwell's equations.



6.2.2 Energy minimization

We now discuss, at last, the minimization of the free energy GL[M(.);Ha] = (6.33)

and we show how Brown's equations derive from it. From the mathematical point of view, GL is a functional of the vector field m(.), with the constraint [m(r)] = 1. The minimization of GL is a typical variational problem. It is analogous to the minimization of the action integral that in analytical mechanics leads to the determination of the equation of motion of a mechanical system. The main difference is that, instead of a given time interval, here we are considering the region of three-dimensional space occupied by the body, and, instead of equations describing a balance of forces in time (equation of motion), here we are going to obtain a balance of forces in space (equilibrium condition). In the minimization calculation, one considers a given magnetization configuration m(r) and imagines to vary it at each point by the small arbitrary amount 8in(r): m(r) ~ m(r) + &n(r) (6.34)

One then calculates to first order the corresponding variation ~L of the energy functional. By taking the variation of Eq. (6.33), one finds 8(3L = (6.35)

f ( 2 A V m ' V S m + O f AdN ' 3 m 3l z ~ 1 7 r6


The form taken by the various terms is fairly evident except for the magnetostatic term. In fact, here one has to exploit the fact that

,~(f HM" m d3r) = f o~


m d3r + f HM" ,~m d3r - 2f HM" ,~m d3r


(6.36) where the two integrals in the middle are equal because of the reciprocity theorem discussed in Appendix C. In Eq. (6.35), Vm 9 VSm is a shorthand notation for Vm x 9 V Smx + Vmy 9 V&ny + Vm z 9 VSmZ. By exploiting the vector identity a 9 V4~ = V 9 (~a) - ~V 9 a, we have that Arm x 9 VSm x = V.(SmxAVmx) - &nxV 9 (AVmx). Analogous expressions hold for the y and z components. When the first divergence term is integrated over the


CHAPTER 6 Micromagnetics

body volume, it gives a flux term across the body surface S. One then obtains
c~)GL---f( v s



+ 2 ~ A 0m. &n da = -/.zofMsHey / 9 ~m dSr On



+ 2 ~ A Om. & n d a d On s

where Hey / is the field defined by Eq. (6.29) and OmlOn indicates the derivative along the outside normal to the body surface S. So far we treated the variation 8In as small but otherwise arbitrary. However, the variation must be consistent with the fact that m is a unit vector, which must always satisfy the constraint Iml = 1. The most general variation compatible with this requirement is 8m = m 30 (6.38)

where 30 is a small and otherwise arbitrary vector, describing a small rotation of m around the arbitrary axis identified by the direction of 30 itself. By substituting Eq. (6.38) into Eq. (6.37) and by exploiting the vector identity a . (b x c ) = (a x b ) . c , we obtain
8GL =/~o Ms (m x Hey/)" ~0 dgr - 2 A m 9 r~Oda On v s


At an extremum ~ L -'- 0 for any arbitrary variation 30. This means that the vectors multiplying 30 in the two integrals must be identically zero, which gives exactly Eq. (6.30) and Eq. (6.31). It is important to stress that the m configurations fulfilling the requirement 8(3L = 0 are extrema of the free energy functional, but not necessarily minima. It is always necessary to check the stability of a given solution against small perturbations, either by calculating the second-order variation of GL, or by directly verifying that 8GL ~ 0 under small arbitrary perturbations of the solution.

6.2.3 Dynamics and relaxation

Brown's equations describe the conditions under which the system is in equilibrium, but they say nothing about two other important aspects:



how the system will approach equilibrium if it is not initially in equilibrium, and how the magnetization will react to a time-varying applied field. To discuss these points, let us consider that an elementary magnetic moment m i also carries a correspondent angular momentum Ji. The two are directly proportional to each other, m i = y J i . We have seen in Section 3.1.3 that in the case of orbital motion of particles of charge-to-mass ratio qo/mo, y = qo/2mo. If Ji comes from the electron spin, then y = qe/me. In a classical treatment, the rate of change of the angular momentum is given by the torque N exerted by the field acting on m i. This torque is N = m i X B (Eq. 3.76). We thus conclude that dJi/dt = mi x B, that is, dmi/dt -- ")/111i X B. In a magnetic medium, we expect a similar equation 4 to hold for the unit magnetization vector m = M/Ms of each elementary volume AV. The main difference is that, due to the presence of exchange, anisotropy, and magnetostatic interactions, the relevant field exerting a torque on the moments becomes the field Hef f of Eq. (6.29). We obtain Om

Ot = yam

Hef t


where5 Yc = #o% This equation reduces to Eq. (6.30) when Om/Ot = 0, and thus is compatible with Brown's equilibrium condition. However, Eq. (6.40) predicts that, if the magnetization is not initially in equilibrium it will start precessing around the field and will never approach equilibrium. The point is that Eq. (6.40) describes a purely gyroscopic effect, with no consideration of the dissipation mechanisms that are necessarily involved in any approach to equilibrium. A phenomenological way to introduce dissipation is suggested by the considerations on nonequilibrium processes made in Section 2.3. We showed there that the free energy gradient is the thermodynamic force driving the system toward equilibrium, and that, in the simplest approximation, one expects the rate of change of the state variable to be proportional to the energy gradient (Eq. 2.33). In the present case the state variable is m, and the role of energy gradient is played by the effective field Heft defined by Eq. (6.29). From this viewpoint, we are thus led to consider the relaxation equation Om HI - ac -~- = 0 (6.41)

with crc > 0. Of the two components of Hef t, parallel and perpendicular
4 W e shall consider equations expressed in terms of H fields, rather than B fields. The difference is proportional to m and does not contribute to the torque. 5In the case of electron spin, YG= t-t'og,,/me~ --2.21 105 mA-ls -1


CHAPTER 6 Micromagnetics

to m, only the perpendicular one, H~, is involved. The reason is that, given the constraint Iml = 1, no change of m can take place parallel to m itself. Equation (6.41) can be written in the equivalent form m Hes crc = 0 (6.42)

In fact, am/at is certainly perpendicular to m, because Iml = 1. Therefore, H - crc am/Ot is perpendicular to m. If a vector v is perpendicular to m, the two equations v = 0 and v m = 0 are equivalent. Equation (6.42) is obtained from this result by further noting that, by definition of H m He//-- m x H Equation (6.42) is in a sense complementary to Eq. (6.40). Like Eq. (6.40), it is compatible with the equilibrium condition expressed by Eq. (6.30). Yet, it only describes dissipative relaxation toward equilibrium, with no consideration of the gyroscopic effect described by Eq. (6.40). A general equation, taking account of both precession and dissipation, is obtained by combining Eq. (6.40) and Eq. (6.42) in the form 3t - yam x

He/d- a c - ~

= ~,cm x He/d- ~'ccrcm X am



This equation is known as Gilbert's equation. Equation (6.40) is recovered from Eq. (6.43) in the limit CrG ~ 0. Conversely, when aG ~ o% am/at tends to be very small and Eq. (6.41) is approached. The consequences of Eq. (6.43) on the evolution of m are graphically shown in Fig. 6.4. The

HI I .

"............................. Heft




FIGURE 6.4. Effective field decomposition used in Eq. (6.44).



Cartesian axes have been chosen along the m direction (z axis), the am~at one (x axis), and the remaining one perpendicular to them. We decompose Heff in the component HII, parallel to m, and H perpendicular to it. H, plays no role because it disappears when the cross-product with m is calculated in Eq. (6.43). We already mentioned that this has a precise physical meaning. The remaining component, H;, is further decomposed into H parallel to am~at, and H 2, perpendicular to it. Equation (6.43) is equivalent to the set of two equations H_L1 - CrG -~- -- 0
0m 0m



= yGm x Hi_2

to be compared with Eq. (6.41) and Eq. (6.40). In fact, if the first equation in Eq. (6.44) were not obeyed, the cross-product m x (Heff- crG am~at) in Eq. (6.43) would give rise to a term perpendicular to am~at, in contradiction with the left-hand side of Eq. (6.43) itself. The Landau-Lifshitz equation

at - yr m x

Hef t - r Lm x H


is also often employed to describe dynamic phenomena. Equation (6.45) is mathematically equivalent to Eq. (6.43). The equivalence can be shown by applying the m x ( . . . ) operation to both members of Eq. (6.45), and by taking into account that m x (m x (m x Heft)) = - (m x Heft). One obtains
m x


7L m x ( m x

Her#) + y t ~ r m x H~/f



X Hef t

By rearranging the various terms, one finds 3m Ot


y~.(1 + _,..~m x --wH-"- aLm X am



This is equivalent to Gilbert's equation, with Yc = I Yc + ~a2c Yc YL~ = YG~ 1 + ~ot~ (6.48)

Equation (6.48) shows that, if we fix the y ratio in one description, the corresponding value in the other description will be the same only in


CHAPTER 6 Micromagnetics

the limit of small damping (~,ccxc < < 1). When the damping becomes important, Gilbert's form is physically more convincing, because it shows how Eq. (6.41) emerges as the natural limit of the dynamics under strong damping. In addition it predicts Om/Ot -~ 0 when c~ c ~ co, as might be expected on intuitive grounds. A last point to mention is that the dynamic equations considered so far ignore the fact that, if the material is a metal, Om/Ot will induce eddy currents, which in turn will produce extra fields that should be included in the balance. Eddy-current effects are described by Eq. (3.92), which, in terms of the unit vector m, takes the form
V2HeddyOr#0 c~Heddy =




This equation should be coupled to Gilbert's equation, extended to include

Ot -

)'am x

Hef t + Heddy -- (XG ~


In Chapter 12, we shall discuss eddy-current effects under very special assumptions about the magnetization configuration. The general problem described by Eq. (6.49), Eq. (6.50), and Eq. (6.29) is really hard to tackle. A possible simplification, consistent with the dissipative character of eddycurrent effects, is just to a s s u m e Heddy "" -- CXeddyOm/Ot , and to encompass the effect in a renormalization of Gilbert's parameter c~ c. The main shortcoming of this recipe is that it treats in local terms an inherent nonlocal problem, as the eddy-current field at position r may depend, through Eq. (6.49), on m changes taking place far away from r.


The concept of coarse-grained free energ3~ considered at the beginning of the chapter, is fundamental in statistical mechanics and field theory. See for example [B.34, B.37]. The energy estimates discussed in Section 6.1 are inspired by the classical analysis carried out in Ref. 6.1 and Ref. 6.2. Micromagnetics is discussed in [B.63, B.64], in Ref. 6.3, and, more recently, in [B.55]. An overview of the main aspects of micromagnetics can also be found in Ref. 6.4 through Ref. 6.8. With the progress of computers, it has become possible to apply the micromagnetic approach to more com-



plex and realistic descriptions of materials. The use of Brown's equations and of Gilbert's or Landau-Lifshitz equations in numerical micromagnetic studies is considered in Ref. 6.5 through Ref. 6.8. A careful discussion of the difficulties encountered in the numerical solution of micromagnetic equations and in particular in the treatment of the magnetostatic energy is given in Ref. 6.9 and in [B.55, Chapter 11]. Both sources include extensive lists of references to the literature on micromagnetics. Many of the numerical studies are aimed at describing the evolution of the magnetization of the body when the external field is varied in time, in order to determine the remanence and the coercivity. This aspect will be considered in more detail in Section 10.2.4 and in Chapter 11. The conditions controlling the magnetization dynamics in a magnetic body are discussed in [B.116, Chapter 7]. Several authors stress the fact that Gilbert's equation is naturally obtained from a Langrangian approach to the magnetization dynamics, in which one introduces in the Langrangian function a Rayleigh dissipation term proportional to the square of the magnetizaiton rate (see [B.63, Chapter 9] and [B.91, Chapter 10]). The significance of Gilbert's equation in relation to the Landau-Lifshitz equation is discussed in Ref. 6.10. 6.1 C. Kittel, "Physical Theory of Ferromagnetic Domains," Rev. Mod. Phys. 21 (1949), 541-583. 6.2 C. Kittel and J.K. Gait, "Ferromagnetic Domain Theor}~" in Solid State Physics, Vol. 3, H.Eherenreich, E Seitz, and D. Turnbull, eds. (New York: Academic Press, 1956), 437-564. 6.3 S. Shtrikman and D. Treves, "Micromagnetics," in [B.93, Vol. III], 395-414. 6.4 J. Miltat, "Domains and Domain walls in Soft Magnetic Materials, Mostly" in [B.105], 221-308. 6.5 M.E. Schabes, "Micromagnetic Theory of Non-Uniform Magnetization Processes in Magnetic Recording Particles," J. Magn. Magn. Mat. 95 (1991), 249-288. 6.6 T. Schrefl, "Micromagnetics of Thin Films and Multilayers," in [B.106], 49-68. 6.7 J.G. Zhu, "Micromagnetics of Thin-Film Media," in [B.89], 5.1-5.78. 6.8 H. Kronmuller, "Micromagnetic Background of Hard Magnetic Materials," in [B.108], 461-498. 6.9 A. Aharoni, "Magnetostatic Energy Calculations," IEEE Trans. Magn. 27 (1991), 3539-3547. 6.10 J.C. MaUinson, "On Damped Gyromagnetic Precession," IEEE Trans. Magn. 23 (1987), 2003-2004.