The unexpected finding that in an ‘artificial spin ice’ magnetostatic energy can be transformed into directed rotation of magnetization provides fresh insights into such nano-patterned magnetic structures — and might enable novel applications in nanoscale devices.
Magnetism and rotation are intimately related. This connection can lead to surprising and non-intuitive effects, as first demonstrated a century ago, when it was predicted, and observed, that changing the magnetization in a piece of ferromagnetic material (such as iron) rotates it, ever so slightly; conversely, spinning a non-magnetised piece of the same material magnetizes it. These phenomena are known as Einstein—de Haas and Barnett effects, respectively, and are beautiful phenomena described in many physics textbooks. Now, Sebastian Gliga and colleagues in the Laboratory for Multiscale Materials Experiments at PSI, led by of Laura Heyderman, report in Nature Materials  the discovery of another sort of rotation in a magnetic structure, one that came as a surprise. They observed that after magnetising their sample, the magnetisation started to consistently rotate in one of two possible directions, without an obvious reason why one way should be preferred over the other.