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Good eggs: NIST nanomagnets offer food for thought about computer memories
Date:4/27/2011

Magnetics researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) colored lots of eggs recently. Bunnies and children might find the eggs a bit smallin fact, too small to see without a microscope. But these "eggcentric" nanomagnets have another practical use, suggesting strategies for making future low-power computer memories.

For a study described in a new paper,* NIST researchers used electron-beam lithography to make thousands of nickel-iron magnets, each about 200 nanometers (billionths of a meter) in diameter. Each magnet is ordinarily shaped like an ellipse, a slightly flattened circle. Researchers also made some magnets in three different egglike shapes with an increasingly pointy end. It's all part of NIST research on nanoscale magnetic materials, devices and measurement methods to support development of future magnetic data storage systems.

It turns out that even small distortions in magnet shape can lead to significant changes in magnetic properties. Researchers discovered this by probing the magnets with a laser and analyzing what happens to the "spins" of the electrons, a quantum property that's responsible for magnetic orientation. Changes in the spin orientation can propagate through the magnet like waves at different frequencies. The more egg-like the magnet, the more complex the wave patterns and their related frequencies. (Something similar happens when you toss a pebble in an asymmetrically shaped pond.) The shifts are most pronounced at the ends of the magnets.

To confirm localized magnetic effects and "color" the eggs, scientists made simulations of various magnets using NIST's object-oriented micromagnetic framework (OOMMF).** (See graphic.) Lighter colors indicate stronger frequency signals.

The egg effects explain erratic behavior observed in large arrays of nanomagnets, which may be imperfectly shaped by the lithography process. Such distortions can affect switching in magnetic dev
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Contact: Laura Ost
laura.ost@nist.gov
303-497-4880
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Source:Eurekalert  

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