Magnetic "handedness" could improve memory

June 21, 2007
Chirality — a spiral-like "handedness" — in nanoscale magnets may play a crucial role in data transmission and manipulation in spintronic devices that use electron spin rather than charge to store data.

Matthias Bode shown with his enhanced spin-polarized scanning-tunneling microscope. The technique lets scientists observe the magnetism of single atoms, which could lead to better magnetic-storage devices for computers and other electronics.


Chirality — a spiral-like "handedness" — in nanoscale magnets may play a crucial role in data transmission and manipulation in spintronic devices that use electron spin rather than charge to store data. Harnessing the property could bring better magnetic-storage devices for computers and other electronics, say researchers at Argonne National Laboratory.

While the spins in ferromagnetic materials are simply oriented along one common direction, some nanomagnets exhibit chirality. Solids with magnetic order of chirality are prime candidates for computer magnetic storage because the peculiar symmetry allows the mixing of electronic, optic, magnetic and structural properties.

The researchers used spin-sensitive scanning-tunneling microscopy (STM) and first-principles electronic structure calculations to identify the magnetic order of single atoms. The technique shows that under a magnetic field the pattern shifts in a given direction, which identified the unique chirality.

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