Controllable fast, tiny magnetic bits

MIT Campus News

For many modern technical applications, such as superconducting wires for magnetic resonance imaging, engineers want as much as possible to get rid of electrical resistance and its accompanying production of heat.

It turns out, however, that a bit of heat production from resistance is a desirable characteristic in metallic thin films for spintronic applications such as solid-state computer memory. Similarly, while defects are often undesirable in materials science, they can be used to control creation of magnetic quasi-particles known as skyrmions.

In separate papers published this month in the journals Nature Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials, researchers in the group of MIT Professor Geoffrey S.D. Beach and colleagues in California, Germany, Switzerland, and Korea, showed that they can generate stable and fast moving skyrmions in specially formulated layered materials at room temperature, setting world records for size and speed. Each paper was featured on the cover of its respective journal.

For the research published in Advanced Materials, the researchers created a wire that stacks 15 repeating layers of a specially fabricated metal alloy made up of platinum, which is a heavy metal, cobalt-iron-boron, which is a magnetic material, and magnesium-oxygen. In these layered materials, the interface between the platinum metal layer and cobalt-iron-boron creates an environment in which skyrmions can be formed by applying an external magnetic field perpendicular to the film and electric current pulses that travel along the length of the wire.

Notably, under a 20 milliTesla field, a measure of the magnetic field strength, the wire forms skyrmions at room temperature. At temperatures above 349 kelvins (168 degrees Fahrenheit), the skyrmions form without an external magnetic field, an effect caused by the material heating up, and the skyrmions remain stable even after the material is cooled back to room temperature. Previously, results like this had been seen only at low temperature and with large applied magnetic fields, Beach says.

Predictable structure

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