Paul van Gerven
8 October 2020

An international research team, including physicists from the Radboud University in Nijmegen, have discovered a much faster approach to create a pattern of spins in a magnet. This offers a new approach to achieve more efficient magnetic data storage.

Normally, the spins in a magnet all point in the same direction, which determines the north and south poles. But sometimes, the directions of the spins form vortex-like configurations known as skyrmions. These are interesting candidates for data storage, as they’re stable and only a few nanometers in size.

skyrmions
Artistic illustration of skyrmions in a magnetic material. Credit: Bastian Pfau/Max-Born-Institut

But storage obviously requires the ability to change the magnetic polarity. For a number of years, Radboud scientists have been looking for optimal ways to control magnetism with laser light. In this technique, very short pulses of light are fired at a magnetic material to reverse the spins in the material.

Now, the research team has found a way to apply control the robust skyrmions. When the material is heated very quickly, also with a laser pulse, the spin configuration can be switched much more quickly than previously thought possible. Because the transition takes relatively little energy, this discovery may eventually lead to less energy-guzzling data centers, for example.

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The study was a collaboration between MIT (Boston), Max-Born-Institut (Berlin), Johannes Gutenberg Universität (Mainz), European XFEL (Hamburg), Technische Universität Berlin, Universität Göttingen, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, Universität Heidelberg, Politecnico di Milano and Radboud University.