Magnetism loses under pressure

Jan 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: Heat makes electrons spin in magnetic superconductors

Related Stories

Heat makes electrons spin in magnetic superconductors

Apr 24, 2015

Physicists have shown how heat can be exploited for controlling magnetic properties of matter. The finding helps in the development of more efficient mass memories. The result was published yesterday in Physical Review Le ...

Electrons move like light in three-dimensional solid

Apr 22, 2015

Electrons were observed to travel in a solid at an unusually high velocity, which remained the same independent of the electron energy. This anomalous light-like behavior is found in special two-dimensional ...

Electron spin brings order to high entropy alloys

Apr 22, 2015

Researchers from North Carolina State University have discovered that electron spin brings a previously unknown degree of order to the high entropy alloy nickel iron chromium cobalt (NiFeCrCo) - and may play ...

Putting a new spin on computing memory

Apr 22, 2015

Ever since computers have been small enough to be fixtures on desks and laps, their central processing has functioned something like an atomic Etch A Sketch, with electromagnetic fields pushing data bits ...

Recommended for you

Heat makes electrons spin in magnetic superconductors

Apr 24, 2015

Physicists have shown how heat can be exploited for controlling magnetic properties of matter. The finding helps in the development of more efficient mass memories. The result was published yesterday in Physical Review Le ...

ICARUS neutrino experiment to move to Fermilab

Apr 23, 2015

A group of scientists led by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia will transport the world's largest liquid-argon neutrino detector across the Atlantic Ocean from CERN to its new home at the US Department of Energy's ...

National security on the move with high energy physics

Apr 23, 2015

Scientists are developing a portable technology that will safely and quickly detect nuclear material hidden within large objects such as shipping cargo containers or sealed waste drums. The researchers, led ...

User comments : 0

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.