Smallest-ever magnetic vortexes mark step toward new digital memory | 7/12/2018 | Staff
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By twisting magnetism into record-small spirals, University of Nebraska-Lincoln physicists are speeding efforts to turn the digital equivalent of memory lane into a memory racetrack that could save energy and space in next-generation electronics.

Magnetic materials contain atoms that act like miniature versions of a classic bar magnet, with each featuring a north and south pole. In the materials that exhibit the strongest magnetic fields – the so-called ferromagnets that transform a refrigerator into a photo gallery, for instance – the poles of those atoms all point in the same direction.

Arrangement - Skyrmion - SKUR'-mee-ahn - Set - Atoms

But that orderly arrangement can get disrupted by a skyrmion (SKUR'-mee-ahn): a set of atoms whose poles tilt further and further away from the magnetic axis as they approach the skyrmion's center, with the atom at its core pointing in the opposite direction of that axis.

Researchers had previously created skyrmions with a diameter of about 50 nanometers – roughly 2,000 times thinner than a human hair – in a ferromagnetic material called manganese monosilicide. But a new study led by Nebraska's David Sellmyer and Balamurugan Balasubramanian has reported the formation of skyrmions just 13 nanometers wide – what seems to be the smallest possible size in the material.

Miniaturization - Matters - Sellmyer - Structures - Promise

That miniaturization matters, Sellmyer said, if the "interesting magnetic structures" are to fulfill their promise as a next-generation form of digital memory.

"One of the biggest limitations has been the diameter of these things," said Sellmyer, George Holmes University Distinguished Professor of physics and astronomy. "This discovery is an important step toward exploiting them for real-world applications."

Digital - Data - Storage - Batches - Atoms

Digital data storage traditionally exists as separate batches of negatively and positively polarized atoms that represent the 1s and 0s, or bits, of binary code. Because creating and moving a skyrmion demands far less energy than aligning those polarized groups of atoms, researchers see the magnetic spiral as an...
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