Magnetism loses under pressure

January 29, 2008
Magnetism loses under pressure
Magnetite is an abundant magnetic mineral. It was used by early navigators to find the magnetic North Pole and birds use if for their navigation.There is intense scientific interest in its properties. Credit: Image courtesy © 2000 John H. Betts

Scientists have discovered that the magnetic strength of magnetite—the most abundant magnetic mineral on Earth—declines drastically when put under pressure. Researchers from the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory, together with colleagues at the Advanced Photon Source of Argonne National Laboratory, have found that when magnetite is subjected to pressures between 120,000 and 160,000 times atmospheric pressure its magnetic strength declines by half. They discovered that the change is due to what is called electron spin pairing.

Magnetism comes from unpaired electrons in magnetic materials. The strength of a magnet is a result of the spin of unpaired electrons and how the spins of different electrons are aligned with one another. This research showed that the drop in magnetism was due to a decrease in the number of unpaired electrons.

“Magnetite is found in small quantities in certain bacteria, in brains of some birds and insects, and even in humans,” commented Yang Ding, the study’s lead author with the Carnegie-led High-Pressure Synergetic Consortium. “Early navigators used it to find the magnetic North Pole and birds use it for their navigation. And now it is used in nanotechnology. There is intense scientific interest in its properties. Understanding the behavior of magnetite is difficult because the strong interaction among its electrons complicates its electronic structure and magnetic properties.”

To study the mineral, the researchers developed and applied a novel technique, called X-ray Magnetic Circular Dichroism (XMCD) at the Advanced Photon Source, a high-energy synchrotron facility. The technique uses high-brilliance circularly polarized X-rays to probe the magnetic state of magnetite as a diamond anvil cell subjects a sample to many hundreds of thousands of atmospheres. The researchers combined their experimental results with theoretical calculations by collaborators to pinpoint why the magnetic strength changes. The study, to be published in February in Physical Review Letters, reveals the electron-spin configuration in the iron sites of the mineral to be the origin of the phenomenon.

This discovery not only shows the profound effects of pressure on magnetism, it also discloses, for the first time, that pressure induced a spin pairing transition that results in changes in the electron mobility and structure.

“The discovery is important,” Ding said. “It advances our understanding of the correlation of magnetism, electron transport, and structural stability in materials with strong electron interactions, like magnetite.”

Source: Carnegie Institution

Explore further: Magnetic fields provide a new way to communicate wirelessly

Related Stories

Magnetic fields provide a new way to communicate wirelessly

September 1, 2015

Electrical engineers at the University of California, San Diego demonstrated a new wireless communication technique that works by sending magnetic signals through the human body. The new technology could offer a lower power ...

Tiny drops of early universe 'perfect' fluid

September 1, 2015

The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a particle collider for nuclear physics research at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, smashes large nuclei together at close to the speed of ...

Wireless charging and discharging for electric vehicles

September 1, 2015

In the future, a wireless charging system will allow electric cars not only to charge their batteries, but also to feed energy back into the power grid, helping to stabilize it. The cost-effective charging system achieves ...

Recommended for you

Quantum computing will bring immense processing possibilities

September 2, 2015

The one thing everyone knows about quantum mechanics is its legendary weirdness, in which the basic tenets of the world it describes seem alien to the world we live in. Superposition, where things can be in two states simultaneously, ...

0 comments

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.