A compass pointing West

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have discovered a special phenomenon of magnetism in the nano range.

It enables magnets to be assembled in unusual configurations. This could be used to build computer memories and switches to increase the performance of microprocessors. The results of the work have now been published in the journal Science.
Magnets are characterized by the fact that they have a North pole and a South pole. If two common magnets are held close to each other, opposite poles attract and like poles repel each other. This is why magnetic needles, such as those found in a compass, align themselves in the Earth’s magnetic field so that we can use them to determine the cardinal directions North and South and, derived from this, East and West. In the world that we experience every day with our senses, this rule is correct. However, if you leave the macroscopic world and dive into depths of much smaller dimensions, this changes. Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and the ETH Zurich have now discovered a very special magnetic interaction at the level of nanoscopic structures made of magnetic layers only a few atoms thick.

>Read more on the Swiss Light Source at PSI website

Image: Zhaochu Luo, lead author of the study, in front of a so-called sputter deposition tool. In the apparatus the layers of platinum, cobalt and aluminium oxide are produced. Each layer is only a few nanometers thick. Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Mahir Dzambegovic