The Curie point (Tc), or Curie temperature, is a term in physics and materials science, named after Pierre Curie (1859-1906), and refers to a characteristic property of a ferromagnetic or piezoelectric material.
Curie point in ferromagnetic materials
The Curie point of a ferromagnetic material is the temperature
above which it loses its characteristic ferromagnetic
ability (768°C for iron). At temperatures below the Curie point the magnetic moments
are partially aligned within magnetic domains
in ferromagnetic materials. As the temperature is increased towards the Curie point, the alignment (magnetization) within each domain decreases. Above the Curie point, the material is purely paramagnetic
and there are no magnetized domains of aligned moments.
At temperatures above the Curie point, an applied magnetic field has a paramagnetic effect on the magnetization, but the combination of paramagnetism with ferromagnetism leads to the magnetization following a hysteresis curve with the applied field strength. The destruction of magnetization at the Curie temperature is a second-order phase transition and a critical point where the magnetic susceptibility is theoretically infinite.
One application of this effect is in magneto-optical storage media, where it is used for erasing and writing of new data. Famous examples include the Sony Minidisc format, as well as the defunct CD-MO format.
Other uses include temperature control in soldering irons such as the Weller WTCPT and, in general, where a temperature-controlled magnetization is desirable.
Curie temperature in piezoelectric materials
In analogy to ferromagnetic materials, the Curie temperature is also used in piezoelectric
materials to describe the temperature above which the material loses its spontaneous polarization
and piezoelectric characteristics. In lead zirconate titanate
(PZT), the material is tetragonal below Tc
and the unit cell contains a displaced central cation
and hence a net dipole moment
. Above Tc
, the material is cubic and the central cation is no longer displaced from the centre of the unit cell. Hence, there is no net dipole moment and no spontaneous polarization.