Controlling the anisotropy of a van der Waals antiferromagnet with light

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Van der Waals magnets provide an ideal playground to explore the fundamentals of low-dimensional magnetism and open opportunities for ultrathin spin-processing devices. The Mermin-Wagner theorem dictates that as in reduced dimensions isotropic spin interactions cannot retain long-range correlations, the long-range spin order is stabilized by magnetic anisotropy. Here, using ultrashort pulses of light, we control magnetic anisotropy in the two-dimensional van der Waals antiferromagnet NiPS3. Tuning the photon energy in resonance with an orbital transition between crystal field split levels of the nickel ions, we demonstrate the selective activation of a subterahertz magnon mode with markedly two-dimensional behavior. The pump polarization control of the magnon amplitude confirms that the activation is governed by the photoinduced magnetic anisotropy axis emerging in response to photoexcitation of ground state electrons to states with a lower orbital symmetry. Our results establish pumping of orbital resonances as a promising route for manipulating magnetic order in low-dimensional (anti)ferromagnets.