A group of researchers from France has been able to create and guide skyrmions in magnetic tracks. These nanoscale magnetic textures are promising information carriers with great potential in future data storage and processing devices. Experiments at the CIRCE-PEEM beamline of the ALBA Synchrotron enabled to image how skyrmions move along tracks written with helium ions.
Magnetic skyrmions are local twists of the magnetization, considered as units (bits) in new magnetic data storage devices. They were named after British physicist Tony Hilton Royle Skyrme, who described these whirling configurations in the 80’s. But it was not until 2006 that there was evidence of their existence.
Skyrmions are of great interest for the scientific and industrial community as they could help finding more efficient ways to store and process information in our computers. They can be manipulated with lower electrical currents, opening a path for being used as information carriers.
But skyrmions are difficult to control. They do not move in straight lines when current is injected but naturally drift sideways, “killing” themselves. This is known as the Skyrmion Hall effect. In order to be used in devices, they need to be moved and controlled in a reliable way.
A group of researchers led by Olivier Boulle from SPINTEC (Grenoble, France) has a wide experience on the subject. They already reported in 2016 the first observation of magnetic skyrmions under conditions appropriate to the industrial needs, with experiments done at the ALBA Synchrotron.
Now, they have found a way to create and guide skyrmions in racetracks: by irradiating magnetic ultrathin layers with helium ions. This method enables to locally tune the magnetic properties to the desired point without introducing defects in the layer.
The samples were prepared and its magnetic properties were locally modified by helium ions irradiation to create the tracks. Later, they were characterized with different techniques to ensure the preparation was consistent. At the CIRCE beamline of the ALBA Synchrotron, using the PEEM photoemission electron microscope, they were able to image how skyrmions move along the tracks when receiving current pulses. Results were confirmed with magnetic force microscopy and micromagnetic simulations.
Read more on the ALBA website
Image: Micromagnetic simulation showing skyrmion motion along the irradiated racetrack. The irradiated racetrack confines the skyrmions within and they move with nanosecond (ns) current pulses along the track edge without being annihilated, thereby deminishing the Skyrmion Hall Effect (SkHE) (current densities in the parentheses are in A.m-2).