Using a magnet to tune a magnet

August 1, 2007
Domain Wall Pattern for a Ferromagnet
Domain wall pattern for a ferromagnet. The technical use of the magnet is determined by the ease with which the walls can be moved, or equivalently, by the force with which they are pinned. Strong pinning gives a hard magnet, soft pinning a soft magnet. The distance between the walls is 100 nanometers or 10 millionths of a centimeter. Credit: Y-A. Soh and G. Aeppli

An international research team, led by scientists at the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN), has found a way to switch a material’s magnetic properties from ‘hard’ to ‘soft’ and back again – something which could lead to new ways of controlling electromagnetic devices.

The research will appear in the journal Nature on August 2nd and shows how a magnet can be ‘tuned’ by subjecting it to a second magnetic field, perpendicular to the original.

Magnets can be classified by their ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ magnetic properties. Hard magnets, sometimes called ‘permanent’ magnets, have fixed or ‘pinned’ domain walls which mean the material stays magnetised for a long time. Soft magnets have moveable domain walls that can be easily flipped. These materials exhibit impermanent magnetic properties.

Professor Gabriel Aeppli, Director of the LCN and a senior member of the research team, explained the significance of the research: “Whether a magnet is hard or soft determines what you can use it for. Typically, you would use a permanent magnet to fix a note to the door of your refrigerator because you want it to stay there for a long time. On the other hand, you might use a soft magnet in a motor or transformer because it would be better at adapting to the rapid changes in alternating current and would dissipate much less energy than a hard magnet.

“It is very rare to be able to continuously tune wall pinning in a magnet but we have now shown how it can be done in a model magnet at a low temperature. In the process, we demonstrate a new route to applications of magnets at higher temperatures and show how chemical disorder at the nanometre (one billionth of a meter) scale can have a huge effect on the properties of a macroscopic (centimetre scale) magnet.”

Most physical and biological systems can be thought of as disordered. Semiconductors rely on randomly placed impurities for their electrical properties and uses, while the chemical and structural impurities in magnets determine the domain wall pinning and therefore how easily their polarity can be changed.

“From a theoretical point of view, it’s been really interesting for us to see the properties of a large, disordered system being dominated to such an extent by a rare configuration of impurities,” says Professor Aeppli. “Unlike biological systems, in materials science we are used to seeing behaviour which is dominated by the average characteristics of the system. Here we can observe the massive influence of a miniscule number of chemical and structural defects.”

Source: University College London

Explore further: Nanoparticles simplify DNA identification and quantification

Related Stories

Nanoparticles simplify DNA identification and quantification

November 25, 2015

In an article published in Small, researchers successfully applied a new qualitative and quantitative method for the detection of a DNA sequence characteristic of Leishmania infantum kinetoplast, a frequent parasite in veterinary ...

Scientists explain the theory behind Ising superconductivity

November 23, 2015

Superconductivity is a fascinating quantum phenomenon in which electrons form pairs and flow with zero resistance. However, strong enough magnetic field can break electron pairs and destroy superconductivity. Surprisingly, ...

Nanocarriers may carry new hope for brain cancer therapy

November 19, 2015

Glioblastoma multiforme, a cancer of the brain also known as "octopus tumors" because of the manner in which the cancer cells extend their tendrils into surrounding tissue, is virtually inoperable, resistant to therapies, ...

Recommended for you

'Material universe' yields surprising new particle

November 25, 2015

An international team of researchers has predicted the existence of a new type of particle called the type-II Weyl fermion in metallic materials. When subjected to a magnetic field, the materials containing the particle act ...

CERN collides heavy nuclei at new record high energy

November 25, 2015

The world's most powerful accelerator, the 27 km long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) operating at CERN in Geneva established collisions between lead nuclei, this morning, at the highest energies ever. The LHC has been colliding ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.