The spin doctors: Researchers discover surprising quantum effect in hard disk drive material

phys.org | 7/26/2017 | Staff
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Scientists find surprising way to affect information storage properties in metal alloy.

Sometimes scientific discoveries can be found along well-trodden paths. That proved the case for a cobalt-iron alloy material commonly found in hard disk drives.

Issue - Physical - Review - Letters - Researchers

As reported in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, along with Oakland University in Michigan and Fudan University in China, have found a surprising quantum effect in this alloy.

The effect involves the ability to control the direction of electron spin, and it could allow scientists to develop more powerful and energy-efficient materials for information storage. By changing the electron spin direction in a material, the researchers were able to alter its magnetic state. This greater control of magnetization allows more information to be stored and retrieved in a smaller space. Greater control could also yield additional applications, such as more energy-efficient electric motors, generators and magnetic bearings.

Effect - Researchers - Damping - Direction - Electron

The effect the researchers discovered has to do with "damping," in which the direction of electron spin controls how the material dissipates energy. "When you drive your car down a flat highway with no wind, the dissipating energy from drag is the same regardless of the direction you travel," said Argonne materials scientist Olle Heinonen, an author of the study. "With the effect we discovered, it's like your car experiences more drag if you're traveling north-south than if you're traveling east-west."

"In technical terms, we discovered a sizable effect from magnetic damping in nanoscale layers of cobalt-iron alloy coated on one side of a magnesium oxide substrate," added Argonne materials scientist Axel Hoffmann, another author of the study. "By controlling the electron spin, magnetic damping dictates the rate of energy dissipation, controlling...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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