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Skyrmions: Scientists unfreeze potential of incorruptible quantum memory

Fri 9 Oct 2015

Researchers have achieved a breakthrough in quantum memory, creating ‘skyrmions’ at room temperature – a development which holds the potential for new types of computer memory which never loses the data it stores.

Named after British physicist Tony Skyrme, the ring-shaped magnetic effects had until recently only been seen under extreme laboratory conditions.

The researchers explain in the paper Realization of ground-state artificial skyrmion lattices at room temperature [PDF] that the magnetic forces contained in each atom in a magnet – known as their ‘magnetic moments’ – align in the same direction. However, under certain conditions spots can appear on a few magnetic materials, such as MnSi and FeCoSi, where the moments bend and twist, creating a spinning ring pattern. The elasticity possessed by these effects creates a shield against external interference, making it extremely difficult for any data stored to be corrupted, even if there is physical damage to the material or if it comes in contact with a rogue magnetic field.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 15.10.23Previously only formed at very low temperatures and under ‘finite’ magnetic fields, scientists led by Dustin Gilbert, a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, and Professor Kai Liu, recently designed a method for generating stable magnetic skyrmions at room temperature and without a magnetic field.

The new approach, confirmed by a team of physicists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), involves positioning rows of small magnetised cobalt disks on top of a thin cobalt and palladium film. Neutrons were used to see through the disks, and verify that the skyrmion configurations were produced.

Gilbert suggests that the findings are an important development in spintronics– a research field investigating the effect of magnetics on data storage and processing. He hopes that the achievement will bring skyrmions into real-life data storage applications, as well as other innovative magnetic and nanoelectronic use cases.

“The idea that has been discussed is that, for example, you could just push these stable magnetic bundles in single file down a line and read their data. The advantage here is that you’d need way less power to push them around than any other method proposed for spintronics,” said Gilbert.

Future skyrmion studies will look at how to manipulate the magnetic effects, but for now Gilbert wants to start exploring the potential application for skyrmions in technology — “the playground is open.”


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