Stoner versus Heisenberg: Ultrafast exchange reduction and magnon generation during laser-induced demagnetization
Understanding how the electronic band structure of a ferromagnetic material is modified during laser-induced demagnetization on femtosecond time scales has been a long-standing question in condensed matter physics. Here, we use ultrafast high harmonics to measure time-, energy-, and angle-resolved M-edge magnetic asymmetry spectra for Co films after optical pumping to induce ultrafast demagnetization. This provides a complete data set that we can compare with advanced ab initio magneto-optical calculations. Our analysis identifies that the dominant mechanisms contributing to ultrafast demagnetization on time scales up to several picoseconds are a transient reduction in the exchange splitting and the excitation of ultrafast magnons. Surprisingly, we find that the magnon contribution to ultrafast demagnetization is already strong on subpicosecond time scales, while the reduction in exchange splitting persists to several picoseconds.