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Magnetised graphene shows potential for novel electronics

12 Mar 2015  | Amy Norcross

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University of California, Riverside researchers have come up with a way to induce magnetism in graphene while preserving its electronic properties. The team was able to do this by bringing a single sheet of graphene into close proximity to a magnetic insulator. According to the researchers, the discovery could pave the way for more innovative electronic devices.

Graphene, a material formed of a mesh of hexagonal carbon atoms, has, according to ExtremeTech author Ryan Whitwam, "many fantastic properties that could change the course of human civilisation. It's chemically stable, highly conductive and incredibly strong." In a recent New Yorker article, John Colapinto wrote graphene "may be the most remarkable substance ever discovered." One thing graphene is not, however, is magnetic.

Though graphene is intrinsically nonmagnetic, "it is possible," noted IEEE Spectrum contributing editor Dexter Johnson, "to induce magnetism in graphene by doping the material with magnetic impurities. Unfortunately, that process comes at the high cost of eliminating all the attractive electrical properties of graphene, such as its high conductivity."

"This is the first time that graphene has been made magnetic this way," said Jinh Shi, a professor of physics and astronomy at UC Riverside. Shi's lab led the research. "The magnetic graphene acquires new electronic properties so that new quantum phenomena can arise. These properties can lead to new electronic devices that are more robust and multifunctional."

Inducing magnetism in graphene

UC Riverside physicists found a way to induce magnetism in graphene, a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, while also preserving graphene's electronic properties. (Source: Shi Lab, UC Riverside)

First placing the single-layer graphene sheet on an insulating ferromagnetic thin film made of yttrium iron garnet (YIG), grown using laser molecular beam epitaxy in the UC Riverside lab, magnetised the graphene while preserving its electronic properties. According to the researchers, graphene "simply borrows the magnetic properties from YIG." Because the YIG is an electric insulator it did not disrupt the graphene's electrical transport properties.

The research team subsequently carried out Hall-effect measurements, which indicated that the induced ferromagnetic graphene state arises from spin polarisation of its electrons due to coupling between electrons in the two materials. Shi and his team also observed that the coupling enhances graphene's normally low spin-orbit coupling, which could "lead to transport phenomena such as the quantised AHE [anomalous Hall effect], which are potentially useful for spintronics."

The results of the study, conducted by Shi, Zhiyong Wang, Chi Tang, Raymond Sachs and Yafis Barlas, were published online in January in Physical Review Letters.

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