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Magnetic vortices could help improve storage device design

18 Nov 2013

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Researchers from the RIKEN Centre for Emergent Matter Science and the University of Tokyo in Japan teamed up to demonstrate the potential role of skyrmions – small magnetic vortex structures found in a chiral crystal lattice – in the development of more efficient magnetic data storage such as hard disc drives. The study, led by Yoshinori Tokura, involved altering manganese with iron in manganese-germanium magnets in order to manipulate the properties of skyrmions. Such structural control may be key to designing high-density, low-power magnetic data storage.

Skyrmions occur rarely in certain magnetic compounds. "Each skyrmion can be considered as a single particle and could represent an information bit," says Kiyou Shibata from the University of Tokyo. "The small size of skyrmions is also of great advantage to high-density integration in devices."

The RIKEN team previously found that skyrmions can be controlled using electrical current densities that are 100,000 times lower compared to densities required for traditional ferromagnetic structures. In the current experiment, Tokura, Shibata and their colleagues studied skyrmions in a range of manganese–germanium magnets by preparing magnetic compounds, in which they increasingly replaced manganese with iron. Through a Lorentz microscope, they observed that the size of skyrmions changes continuously with composition and that a ratio of about 80 per cent iron and 20 per cent manganese changes their orientation. This finding is explained by an iron-dependent change in the magnetic coupling between the magnetic properties of the electrons in the magnet and their movements around the atomic core.

The results make it possible to consider practical schemes to design devices based on skyrmions. For example, skyrmions with the desired size and orientation can be created by tuning the composition of the magnet. The study authors said they now intend to "focus on the manipulation of skyrmions. In particular, the dynamics of isolated skyrmions in confined structures have been predicted theoretically and would be a good subject for experimental research."

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