3D magnetic interactions could lead to new forms of computing

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A new way to communicate information between magnets has been developed, creating new potential for storage and computation

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6 June 2019 | 0

University of Glasgow physicists have found a new form of magnetic interaction which pushes a previously 2D phenomenon into the third dimension.

Scientists say this development could open a range of possibilities for data storage and advanced computing.

Findings published in the journal Nature Materials describe the team’s new method for passing information from tiny magnets on ultra-thin film, to magnets on another film below.

The south pole of one magnet attracts the north pole of another. However, this applies to magnets of a size most people are familiar with, it can change as they shrink.

At the nanoscale, where magnets may be just a few billionths of a metre in size, they interact with each other in new ways, including attracting and repelling each other at 90-degree angles instead of straight-on.

Scientists can exploit these properties to encode and process information in thin films covered in a single layer of nanoscale magnets.

This innovation adds both literal and metaphorical extra dimension to spintronics, which is the field of science dedicated to data storage, retrieval and processing. Spintronic systems have numerous benefits including low power consumption, high storage capacity and greater robustness.

In the past, spintronics was behind significant technological advances i.e. magnetic hard disk drives, while today the functionality of magnetic systems in computers is confined to one plane. Now, the Glasgow team’s innovation has created potential for storage and computation.

Dr Amalio Fernandez-Pacheco, an EPSRC Early Career Fellow in the University’s school of physics & astronomy, was the paper’s lead author. He said: “The discovery of this new type of interaction between neighbour layers gives us a rich and exciting way to explore and exploit unprecedented 3D magnetic states in multi-layered nanoscale magnets.

“It’s a bit like being given an extra note in a musical scale to play with – it opens up a whole new world of possibilities, not just for conventional information processing and storage, but potentially for new forms of computing we haven’t even thought of yet.”

The paper is titled ‘Symmetry-Breaking Interlayer Dzyaloshinskii-Moriya Interactions in Synthetic Antiferromagnets’. Research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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