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Date:12/17/2007

ductor again," Natelson said. "The transition is very sharp, and when the voltage is then lowered back below a lower critical value the magnetite snaps back into its insulating phase. We don't know exactly why this switching occurs, but we think further experiments will shed light on this and the nature of the insulating state."

With engineers looking to exploit novel electronic materials for next-generation computers and hard drives, phase transitions between insulating and conducting states have become an increasingly hot research topic in physics and materials science in recent years.

The debate about the causes and specifics of magnetite's temperature-driven phase change has simmered much longer. Natelson said physicists have long sparred about the possible underlying physical and electronic causes of the phase transition. The discovery of this new voltage-driven switching provides new clues, but more research is still needed, he said.

"The effect we discovered probably wasn't noticed in the past because nanotechnology is only now making it possible to prepare the electrodes, nanoparticles, and thin films required for study with the precision necessary to document the effect," he said.

Natelson's team experimented on two kinds of magnetite. One, called nanorust, consists of tiny particles of magnetite developed in the laboratory of Rice chemist Vicki Colvin, director of Rice's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology. The second, thin films of single-crystal magnetite, were produced by Igor Shvets' research group at the University of Dublin's Trinity College. These high quality materials with precise compositions were essential to the study, said Natelson.


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Contact: B.J. Almond
balmond@rice.edu
713-348-6770
Rice University
Source:Eurekalert

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