Chemists exploring new material with 'next generation' computer hard drive possibilities

Jan 28, 2014
University of Aberdeen chemists exploring new material that could be used for next generation hard drives.

( —An attempt to uncover the 'holy grail' of a lossless energy source has inadvertently led to a study which could result in the next generation of high-speed, mass storage hard drives.

Chemists at the University of Aberdeen were examining a new compound to explore whether it could be a 'superconductor' – a material that has no – when they realised it had a completely different potential.

"Lots of research is being done at the moment into spintronic materials for smaller, faster, cheaper and more efficient computing applications," explains Dr Abbie McLaughlin, a chemistry senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen.

"Originally, we were looking at a manganese oxyarsenide material to explore whether or not it could be a potential superconductor.

"Superconductors that work at room temperature are something of a 'holy grail'. Most metals have resistance, so when you're transporting electricity in overhead transmission lines on pylons, for example, you lose a lot of that to heat as a result of the resistance – so it's not very efficient.

"A superconductor doesn't have this, so it's a much greener way of transporting electricity. If we could discover a superconducting material that works at room temperature it would transform our world and could also lead to highly efficient electric cars or supercomputers beyond anything that exists at the moment.

"Scientists have been concentrating on materials containing planes of copper and oxygen (cuprates) as these materials exhibit superconductivity at the highest temperatures (known as ). However so far it has not been possible to observe superconductivity above 139 Kelvin (-134 °C). This all changed 5 years ago when a new set of iron arsenide materials were also shown to exhibit high temperature superconductivity. This caused much excitement worldwide because if there's a whole new set of materials out there then it's still possible the superconductor could be achieved.

"We switched the iron for manganese to see how the properties changed. It didn't show superconductivity but it did show another exciting property - Colossal Magneto Resistance."

The information stored on computer hard drives is currently read using magnetic sensors which display an effect called giant magnetoresistance. Such exhibit a reduction in resistance by up to 50 % upon applying a small magnetic field. The introduction of giant magnetoresistant sensors enabled a thousand fold improvement in the storage capacity of disk drives.

In the 1990s materials called manganese oxides were discovered which display 'Colossal Magneto Resistance'. These materials showed reductions in by up to 99.9% in field, are up to 1,000 times more powerful than current devices and could trigger a revolution in computing technology. However these materials required a large magnet (around the size of a small table) to work. As such, these superfast, hard drives have not yet come to fruition.

Dr McLaughlin discovered that the manganese arsenide she had been investigating also show Colossal Magneto Resistance.

"We're hoping we can manipulate the chemistry and somehow develop a material that will show this Colossal Magneto Resistance in low fields, using smaller magnets. At the moment we only see colossal magnetoresistance at a really low temperature, so the grant is about seeing if we can make other compounds with similar structures that will work at higher temps. So we're tinkering with the chemistry and seeing if there's anything we can do to raise the temperature.

"New like this with new mechanisms of colossal magnetoresistance mean there's a renewed interest in this field. Even if we can't get it to work at high temperatures, the fundamental mechanism could maybe be applied to something else.

Explore further: New study advances quest for better superconducting materials

Related Stories

Secrets behind high temperature superconductors revealed

Feb 22, 2009

( -- Scientists from Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) have found evidence that magnetism is involved in the mechanism behind high temperature superconductivity.

Recommended for you

Controlling core switching in Pac-man disks

14 hours ago

Magnetic vortices in thin films can encode information in the perpendicular magnetization pointing up or down relative to the vortex core. These binary states could be useful for non-volatile data storage ...

World's most complex crystal simulated

14 hours ago

The most complicated crystal structure ever produced in a computer simulation has been achieved by researchers at the University of Michigan. They say the findings help demonstrate how complexity can emerge ...

Atoms queue up for quantum computer networks

14 hours ago

In order to develop future quantum computer networks, it is necessary to hold a known number of atoms and read them without them disappearing. To do this, researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute have developed ...

New video supports radiation dosimetry audits

Dec 23, 2014

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), working with the National Radiotherapy Trials Quality Assurance Group, has produced a video guide to support physicists participating in radiation dosimetry audits.

Ultrasounds dance the 'moonwalk' in new metamaterial

Dec 23, 2014

Metamaterials have extraordinary properties when it comes to diverting and controlling waves, especially sound and light: for instance, they can make an object invisible, or increase the resolving power of ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jan 29, 2014
If it requires a mechanical spinning disc, for get it.
Jan 30, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

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.