World-first magnetism research has been published by Professor Michael Coey at AMBER (the Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research Centre based at Trinity College Dublin) together with researchers from the Netherlands, Singapore, and the USA in the prestigious journal 'Science'
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World-first magnetism research has been published by Professor Michael Coey at AMBER (the Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research Centre based at Trinity College Dublin) together with researchers from the Netherlands, Singapore, and the USA in the prestigious journal Science. Researchers have discovered that magnetism can be suddenly switched on by adding an extra layer just one atom thick to a thin film of a specific oxide material.

This is not only important for materials science, as researchers have detected a surprising new type of behavior within the material, but it is also a significant discovery that could have potential for storing the World’s big data. Besides, it is a step towards the goal of new, oxide-based electronics. Researchers from the University of Twente, the National University of Singapore, Stanford University, the University of Nebraska and AMBER in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) all contributed to this body of research.

All the information we download every day from the internet is stored magnetically on the hard disks in server farms dotted across the world. Magnetism in layers of nanomaterials less than 50 atoms thick has been a key enabler of the big data revolution. One of the major challenges is to increase the density of storage in the discs, which is where the new, ultra-thin magnetic oxide layers may help.

The researchers discovered the unusual magnetic effect in nanolayers of a material, LaMnO3 (an oxide of lanthanum and manganese). When thin layers of this material were grown, it was discovered that the magnetism was sensitive to the slightest change in layer thickness. Below five layers of these atoms, the material is non-magnetic, but magnetism is switched on abruptly when the number of layers changes from five to six (or more). Such an abrupt transition has never been seen before.

This discovery could have a significant impact on data storage. A total of 2.7 Zetabytes of data exist in the digital universe today (where one zetabyte is the equivalent of one sextillion (or 10 to the power of 21 bytes), and that amount is doubling every year. Only with new ideas and new materials can we continue to progress at this pace.

Professor Coey, a principal investigator at AMBER and emeritus professor in TCD’s School of Physics, is an authority on magnetism and its applications, was the first Irish member of the European Academy of Science and has received many honours and awards.

On the announcement he said: “The discovery of such a tiny change to a material for the appearance of magnetism makes it possible to define magnetic structures on a nanoscale. The work shows how the addition of just one extra atomic layer can utterly change the magnetism. Now, the team are planning to use pinpoint electric fields or special molecules to turn on the magnetism of our five-layer films, and explore potential applications in big data storage.”

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  World-first magnetism research has been published by Professor Michael Coey at AMBER (the Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research Centre based at Trinity College Dublin) together with researchers from the Netherlands, Singapore, and the USA in the prestigious journal Science. Researchers have discovered that magnetism can be suddenly switched on...