Paul van Gerven
26 May 2020

Researchers at Delft University of Technology have developed an 11 atom sensor capable of capturing magnetic waves. They hope to use it to learn more about the behavior of the waves, which would bolster the development of spintronics.

11 atom sensor
Scanning tunneling microscope image of the magnetic wave sensor (inside the dashed rectangle), connected to an atomic wire. Credit: Delft University of Technology

In spintronics, electrical signals are traded for magnetic ones, which would make data processing much more efficient. Unfortunately, magnetism is complicated, especially at the tiny scale of computer chips. A magnetic wave is like millions of compass needles performing a complex collective dance. Not only do the waves propagate extremely fast, causing them to vanish in mere nanoseconds, the tricky laws of quantum mechanics also allow them to travel in multiple directions at the same time.

To still be able to study these rapid oscillations, the Delft research group of Sander Otte has developed a minuscule device that can instantly detect a passing magnetic wave and store the measurement outcome. Initial tests show that the waves indeed move very peculiarly, as one would expect from quantum mechanics. The next step is to also apply this technique to more complicated circuits in order to gain more insight into the behavior of spintronics.