Exotic Magnetic Behavior Could Enable New Form of Data Storage

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An exotic magnetic behavior discovered a few years ago may be the key to a new way of storing data. Unlike today’s magnetic disks that read and write data one bit at a time by altering the orientation of magnetized particles.

This new system makes use of the small disturbances found in magnetic orientation, which is called “skyrmions.” Virtual particles can be controlled through the use of electric fields and have the ability to store data for long periods without needing any additional energy input

Back in 2016 Geoffrey Beach, MIT associate professor of materials science and engineering, and colleagues wrote about these skyrmions but noted how their locations were completely random. Now, for the first time Beach and others have come together to demonstrate how they can create these particles, at will, at a location of their choosing. This is the next stage in using them in an efficient data storage system.

The new system focuses on the area in between atoms pointing their magnetic poles in one direction and those with poles facing the other way.  This boundary region can move back and forth within the magnetic material and can be controlled by putting a second sheet of heavy nonmagnetic material near the magnetic layer.  This then influences the magnetic layer, and the magnetic domains begin to be pushed around the magnetic layer.  The little swirls of magnetic orientation within these layers are skyrmions, confirms Beach.

Being able to create skyrmions at will wherever needed is made possible through material defects. When there’s a defect in the magnetic layer, the skyrmions get pinned to a specific location.  Therefore, these defects could be used as a way to control the writing surface fort data encoded in the skyrmions.  For once, the defect is useful.  “One of the biggest missing pieces need to make skyrmions a practical data-storage medium was a reliable way to create them when and where they were needed,” says Beach.  “So this is a significant breakthrough.”

Skyrmions are much more stable than individual magnetic poles in a conventional magnetic device and enable to be stored on a surface just a few atoms across.  So for that reason alone, they make perfect storage devices.  The system could also potentially be used in the future to encode data at very high speeds making it a suitable replacement for hard discs as well as allowing much faster memory systems to be implemented in computers.

However, one thing that is still an issue with the new system is how to read out the data once it’s been stored.   Researchers can use spectroscopy in which to do it, that kind of equipment is far too impractical and expensive to have in every computer memory system.  One way that has been suggested as an alternative way of reading the data is by using an additional metal layer and creating a particular texture upon it.  This may detect the differences in the layer’s electrical resistance.  It may not yet work, but there’s no harm in trying.  And if they don’t succeed there; the team will continue their efforts to source other strategies that will address the issue.

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