Using magnetic fields to control newly identified state of matter could enable more efficient memory devices

September 9, 2011
Figure 1: The ferromagnets in hard drives could one day be replaced by chiral spin liquids, achieving a lower-energy-consumption device. Credit: 2011

Scientists in Japan have shown that the properties of a recently discovered state of matter—a chiral spin liquid—can be controlled by applying a magnetic field1, a concept that could be harnessed for low-energy-consumption memory devices .

Many ferromagnetic materials exhibit the so-called ‘anomalous ’ (AHE), whereby the electrons flowing through the materials experience a lateral force pushing them to one side as a result of the materials’ intrinsic magnetization. In materials exhibiting the ‘conventional’ Hall effect, the lateral force is caused by an external . The magnetic material Pr2Ir2O7 is a special case because it displays AHE without possessing a uniform magnetization. This unusual behavior was recently recognized and analyzed for the first time by Shigeki Onoda from the RIKEN Advanced Science Institute, Wako, and his colleagues2. They interpreted this behavior as a good indication that Pr2Ir2O7 exists as a chiral spin liquid in which effects such as AHE depend on which direction an electron is travelling.

The collaboration team of the theoretical physicist, Onoda, and colleagues at The University of Tokyo and the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan, and  Florida State University, USA, discovered they could control this enigmatic material by experimentally investigating how the AHE in Pr2Ir2O7 depends on applied-magnetic-field strength at temperatures below 2 kelvin. They found that the sign of the voltage drop associated with the anomalous Hall effect can be reversed by a sweep cycle of a magnetic field without causing an effect called hysteresis—where the magnetization depends on the direction in which the magnetic field is swept. “Magnetization hysteresis is a main cause of heat or energy loss,” explains Onoda. “Thus, our results prove that this material could function as a nonvolatile memory device.”

These properties arise because every physical system organizes in a way that minimizes its energy. In some materials, two competing influences—the arrangement of the crystal lattice and the ordering of local magnetic moments or ‘spins’ of electrons—cannot balance because they cannot simultaneously attain their minimum energy state. Known as geometric frustration, this situation prevents the system from settling in a particular state, and means that the spins fail to become ordered even at absolute zero. For this reason, physicists called these materials spin liquids.

“To practically harness the effects of AHE in a chiral spin liquid, the chirality must remain finite at room temperature,” says Onoda. Although a difficult challenge, the current work is a positive start.

Explore further: Magnetic control of anomalous hall effect induced by spin chirality

More information: Balicas, L., et al. Anisotropic hysteretic Hall effect and magnetic control of chiral domains in the chiral spin states of Pr2Ir2O7. Physical Review Letters 106, 217204 (2011).

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5 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2011
" Room temperature " being the key words here. Very cool work though,....I understand there's research into custom clathrates for the same purposes as well ?
5 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2011
Okay, it's melted spin ice. Nice. Basically a slushy liquid crystal ? Looks like niobium ore and pyrochlore might be something to invest in.
5 / 5 (2) Sep 09, 2011
While this is interesting work, the initial premise/title of the article is ridiculous. Considering that this is likely 20 years out, and that more practical storage methods are in the pipeline that likely beat the ideal result from this experiment, there is no reason to believe that this will affect computer technology.

Tell me how this could possibly be better than memristors or graphene, and I might have more interest in the sensationalism.

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