All it Takes is One (Very Care­fully Lo­cated) Atom to Make a Mag­net

The Economic Times - - Around The World -

Sci­en­tists have suc­cess­fully cre­ated the world’s small­est mag­net - it’s a sin­gle atom, and it could be an in­te­gral part of com­put­ers in the fu­ture. The one -atom mag­net was made by a team of re­searchers from the Ecole Polytech­nique Fed­erale de Lau­sanne (EPFL) in Switzer­land, and it’s be­lieved to be the most stable ver­sion ever cre­ated.

The team’s dis­cov­ery is no­table be­cause mag­nets this small are hard to keep mag­ne­tised, mean­ing they wouldn’t be able to hold any­thing for very long if they were used in data stor­age de­vices. Us­ing a pi­o­neer­ing tech­nique, EFPL’s Har­ald Brune and his team got around this prob­lem by plac­ing atoms of the rare-earth el­e­ment holmium on thin films of mag­ne­sium ox­ide. Us­ing this method, atom­sized mag­nets which ac­tu­ally hold on to their mag­netism can be cre­ated, since holmium’s elec­tron struc­ture pre­vents the mag­netic field from be­ing dis­turbed.

At this stage, the mag­net is just a pro­to­type - cre­at­ing it is in­cred­i­bly di ffi­cult and time-con­sum­ing, and it only re­mains stable at tem­per­a­tures of around -233°C. How­ever, it ’s a ma­jor brea kthrough which could change the way we use com­put­ers in the fu­ture.

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