Reaching the magnetic anisotropy limit of a 3d metal atom
Designing systems with large magnetic anisotropy is critical to realize nanoscopic magnets. Thus far, the magnetic anisotropy energy per atom in single-molecule magnets and ferromagnetic films remains typically one to two orders of magnitude below the theoretical limit imposed by the atomic spin-orbit interaction. We realized the maximum magnetic anisotropy for a 3d transition metal atom by coordinating a single Co atom to the O site of an MgO(100) surface. Scanning tunneling spectroscopy reveals a record-high zero-field splitting of 58 millielectron volts as well as slow relaxation of the Co atom's magnetization. This striking behavior originates from the dominating axial ligand field at the O adsorption site, which leads to out-of-plane uniaxial anisotropy while preserving the gas-phase orbital moment of Co, as observed with x-ray magnetic circular dichroism.