Electric skyrmions charge ahead for next-generation data storage

Berkeley Lab-led research team makes a chiral skyrmion crystal with electric properties; puts new spin on future information storage applications.

When you toss a ball, what hand do you use? Left-handed people naturally throw with their left hand, and right-handed people with their right. This natural preference for one side versus the other is called handedness, and can be seen almost everywhere – from a glucose molecule whose atomic structure leans left, to a dog who shakes “hands” only with her right.

Handedness can be exhibited in chirality – where two objects, like a pair of gloves, can be mirror images of each other but cannot be superimposed on one another. Now a team of researchers led by Berkeley Lab has observed chirality for the first time in polar skyrmions – quasiparticles akin to tiny magnetic swirls – in a material with reversible electrical properties. The combination of polar skyrmions and these electrical properties could one day lead to applications such as more powerful data storage devices that continue to hold information – even after a device has been powered off. Their findings were reported this week in the journal Nature.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: Simulations of skyrmion bubbles and elongated skyrmions for the lead titanate/strontium titanate superlattice.
Credit: Berkeley Lab.

How to catch a magnetic monopole in the act

Berkeley Lab-led study could lead to smaller memory devices, microelectronics, and spintronics

A research team led by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has created a nanoscale “playground” on a chip that simulates the formation of exotic magnetic particles called monopoles. The study – published recently in Science Advances – could unlock the secrets to ever-smaller, more powerful memory devices, microelectronics, and next-generation hard drives that employ the power of magnetic spin to store data.

Follow the ‘ice rules’
For years, other researchers have been trying to create a real-world model of a magnetic monopole – a theoretical magnetic, subatomic particle that has a single north or south pole. These elusive particles can be simulated and observed by manufacturing artificial spin ice materials – large arrays of nanomagnets that have structures analogous to water ice – wherein the arrangement of atoms isn’t perfectly symmetrical, leading to residual north or south poles.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley Lab website

Image: Full image here. This  nanoscale “playground” on a chip uses nanomagnets to simulate the formation of exotic magnetic particles called “monopoles.” Credit: Farhan/Berkeley Lab

Magnetic patterning by electron beam assisted carbon lithography

The exploitation of the unique physical properties of thin films and heterostructures are opening intriguing opportunities for magnetic storage technology. These artificial materials will in fact enable novel architectures for a multitude of magnetic devices and sensors, promoting a significant improvement in storage density, functionality and efficiency. Their usage will also contribute to diminish the consumption of materials that are rare and difficult to extract, being often detrimental to the environment. With these objectives in mind, researchers are now looking with great attention at the combination of thin ferromagnetic layers with 2-dimensional crystals like graphene and transition metal dichalcogenides. Due to their layered structure, these systems exhibit very favorable magnetic properties, which can be tuned through thickness and interfacial interactions. For instance, graphene-cobalt stacks display an enhanced perpendicular magnetic anisotropy, a feature that is especially important for non-volatile memories.
The fabrication of layered materials, however, is still a very challenging process. Not only it requires atomic precision in the deposition of the various layers but also the ability to create nano or microstructures of arbitrary shape. Conventional lithography in conjunction with chemical etching permits nowadays to sculpture the matter with great accuracy, at lateral resolution close to the nanometer. Yet, this approach poses an important limitation, that is, the material can only be shaped by erosion. The ability to vary the chemical composition, by adding atoms for example, is instead very desirable for many applications. To date, this can be done by stimulating the fragmentation of suitable carrier molecules using photons or electrons. So far, various methods based on focused beam induced processing methods have been devised, which can be readily employed to deposit carbonaceous layers and metallic nanostructures. These methods, however, cannot be applied when ultra-clean, ultra-high vacuum (UHV) conditions are needed, as happens for the case of semiconductor industry.

>Read more on the Elettra website

Figure 1.  (left) Scheme of the protocol for printing chemo-magnetic patterns in ultrathin Co on Re(0001). (a) The film is exposed to CO at room temperature. The irradiation with a focused electron beam (yellow) stimulates the dissociation of the molecule, which results in the accumulation of atomic carbon on the surface. (b) Subsequently, the sample is annealed above 170 °C to desorb molecularly adsorbed CO from the non-irradiated surface regions. (c) LEEM image of an e-beam irradiated disk. Disk diameter: 1 μm; Co thickness: 4 atomic layers; irradiation energy: 50 eV; CO dose: 9.75 L; (d) Intensity profile across the orange line in the LEEM image in (c) and fit using a step function convoluted with a Gaussian of full width at half-maximum of 30 nm. The dashed blue lines indicate the 15–85% distance between minimum and maximum intensity. (e) XMCD-PEEM image of the same region at the Co L3 edge. (f) Intensity profiles across the blue and orange dashed lines in the XMCD-PEEM image in (e). The magnetic stripes indicate out-of-plane magnetic anisotropy. The stripe period is 120 nm. Adapted with permission from [1].
Copyright (2018) American Chemical Society.

Extremely small magnetic nanostructures with invisibility cloak

Future data storage technology

In novel concepts of magnetic data storage, it is intended to send small magnetic bits back and forth in a chip structure, store them densely packed and read them out later. The magnetic stray field generates problems when trying to generate particularly tiny bits. Now, researchers at the Max Born Institute (MBI), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and DESY were able to put an “invisibility cloak” over the magnetic structures. In this fashion, the magnetic stray field can be reduced, allowing for small yet mobile bits. The results were published in Nature Nanotechnology.

For physicists, magnetism is intimately coupled to rotating motion of electrons in atoms. Orbiting around the atomic nucleus as well as around their own axis, electrons generate the magnetic moment of the atom. The magnetic stray field associated with that magnetic moment is the property we know from e.g. a bar magnet we use to fix notes on pinboard. It is also the magnetic stray field that is used to read the information from a magnetic hard disk drive. In today’s hard disks, a single magnetic bit has a size of about 15 x 45 nanometer, about of those would fit on a stamp.

One vision for a novel concept to store data magnetically is to send the magnetic bits back and forth in a memory chip via current pulses, in order to store them at a suitable place in the chip and retrieve them later. Here, the magnetic stray field is a bit of a curse, as it prevents that the bits can be made smaller for even denser packing of the information. On the other hand, the magnetic moment underlying the stray field is required to be able to move the structures around.

>Read more on the PETRA III at DESY website

Credit: MIT, L. Caretta/M. Huang [Source]

X-Rays Reveal ‘Handedness’ in Swirling Electric Vortices

Scientists at Berkeley Lab study exotic material’s properties, which could make possible a new form of data storage

Scientists used spiraling X-rays at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to observe, for the first time, a property that gives handedness to swirling electric patterns – dubbed polar vortices – in a synthetically layered material.

Read more on the Berlekely Lab website

Image: This diagram shows the setup for the X-ray experiment that explored chirality, or handedness, in a layered material. The blue and red spirals at upper left show the X-ray light that was used to probe the material. The X-rays scattered off of the layers of the material (arrows at upper right and associated X-ray images at top), allowing researchers to measure chirality in swirling electrical vortices within the material. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

Time – and spatially – resolved magnetization dynamics driven by spin-orbit torques

There is a strong correlation between the rise of a civilization and writing. The so-called Information Age developed in parallel with the ability to write, store, and process large amounts of digital data. To keep pace with the increasing demand for data of our days, not only the size but also the speed of digital memories must increase dramatically, while keeping the energy consumption at reasonable levels. In order to achieve that, we must learn to write anew.

>Read More on the PSI website

Image: Magnetisation switching of a 500 nm diameter Pt/Co/AlOx disc.