Study uses an electric field to create magnetic properties in nonmagnetic material

January 12, 2017, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Study uses an electric field to create magnetic properties in nonmagnetic material
In the experiment, the scientists moved the electric tip along the surface and applied a positive voltage. The electric field aligns the spins of the electrons in the nonmagnetic material, and the ordering creates magnetic properties. If the voltage is reversed, the spins once again become disordered and magnetism is lost. The researchers were able to see the changes using X-ray microscopy at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource. Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

In a proof-of-concept study published in Nature Physics, researchers drew magnetic squares in a nonmagnetic material with an electrified pen and then "read" this magnetic doodle with X-rays.

The experiment demonstrated that magnetic properties can be created and annihilated in a nonmagnetic material with precise application of an electric field – something long sought by scientists looking for a better way to store and retrieve information on hard drives and other . The research took place at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

"The important thing is that it's reversible. Changing the voltage of the applied electric field demagnetizes the material again," said Hendrik Ohldag, a co-author on the paper and scientist at the lab's Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

"That means this technique could be used to design new types of memory with additional layers of information that can be turned on and off with an , rather than the magnetic fields used today," Ohldag said. "This would allow more targeted control, and would be less likely to cause unwanted effects in surrounding magnetic areas."

"This experimental finding is important for overcoming the current difficulties in storage applications," said Jun-Sik Lee, a SLAC staff scientist and one of the leaders of the experiment. "We can now make a definitive statement: This approach can be implemented to design future storage devices."

Lining Up the Spins

A material's magnetic properties are determined by the orientation of the electrons' spins. In ferromagnetic , found in hard drives, refrigerator magnets and compass needles, all the electron spins are lined up in the same direction. These spins can be manipulated by applying a magnetic field – flipping them from north to south, for instance, to store information as ones and zeroes.

Scientists have also been trying different ways to create a "multiferroic state," where magnetism can be manipulated with an .

"This has become one of the Holy Grails of technology over the past decade," Ohldag said. "There are studies that have shown aspects of this multiferroic state before. The novelty here is that by designing a particular material, we managed to both create and eliminate magnetism in a controlled fashion on the nanoscale."

Crosstalk Between Electricity and Magnetism

In this study, the team started with an antiferromagnetic material – one that has small patches of magnetism that cancel each other out, so that overall it doesn't act like a magnet.

Both antiferromagnets and ferromagnets show magnetic properties only below a certain temperature, and above that temperature they become non-magnetic.

By designing an antiferromagnetic material doped with the element lanthanum, the researchers found they could tune the properties of the material in such a way that electricity and magnetism could influence each other at room temperature. They could then flip the with an electrical field.

To see these changes, they tuned a scanning transmission X-ray microscope at SSRL so it could detect the magnetic spin of the electrons. The X-ray images confirmed that the magnetization had occurred, and was truly reversible.

Next, the research team would like to test other materials, to see if they can find a way to make the effect even more pronounced.

Explore further: A new spintronics material promises huge leaps in computer data storage

More information: Byung-Kweon Jang et al. Electric-field-induced spin disorder-to-order transition near a multiferroic triple phase point, Nature Physics (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nphys3902

Related Stories

Recommended for you

How a particle may stand still in rotating spacetime

May 25, 2018

When a massive astrophysical object, such as a boson star or black hole, rotates, it can cause the surrounding spacetime to rotate along with it due to the effect of frame dragging. In a new paper, physicists have shown that ...

Long live the doubly charmed particle

May 25, 2018

Finding a new particle is always a nice surprise, but measuring its characteristics is another story and just as important. Less than a year after announcing the discovery of the particle going by the snappy name of Ξcc++ (Xicc++), ...

How can you tell if a quantum memory is really quantum?

May 23, 2018

Quantum memories are devices that can store quantum information for a later time, which are usually implemented by storing and re-emitting photons with certain quantum states. But often it's difficult to tell whether a memory ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jan 12, 2017
This sounds like exactly what is needed in the quest to make computers smaller. Being able to design the electron paths and prevent leakage or bit flipping is the least of what this will be able to do.
not rated yet Jan 12, 2017
So if its all the same alignment what is the Value? You can make ones an d zeros out of magnetized and non-magnetized.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2017
Above the septal leaflet is the sino-atrial node. Beneath the heart valve are multiple tendrils attaching it. The QRS between establishes a momentary electric field, similarly to that described above, and aligns charges in the blood to throw off BPG (once called DPG) and CO2 from hemoglobin immediately before exposure to the atmosphere in the lung. This occurs in any polar fluid. The aligned dipoles of the liquid oscillate out, then back into line: causing the mysterious T wave (and J, U, & even V waves). Thus long QT syndrome is due to initial conditions as is necessary by the math in all damped driven oscillations.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 19, 2017
Sure, we know this. The field aligns the magnetic fields or at least affects the orbital direction, this can be solved mathematically. The idea of magnetic or non-magnetic is bogus. Anyway, the E field defines magnetism not the other way around. There is no magnetism without at least one spherical E field and its center moving in circular like motion.

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.