A team of researchers have tapped into the potential of fast-moving magnetic particles that could yield a new form of data storage.
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a new system that would make use of tiny disturbances in magnetic orientation, which have been dubbed “skyrmions.” These virtual particles, which occur on a thin metallic film sandwiched against a film of different metal, can be manipulated and controlled using electric fields, and can store data for long periods without the need for further energy input.
The new system focuses on the boundary region between atoms whose magnetic poles are pointing in one direction and those with poles pointing the other way.
The boundary region can move back and forth within the magnetic material and could be controlled by placing a second sheet of nonmagnetic heavy metal very close to the magnetic layer.
The researchers introduced a particular kind of defect in the magnetic layer to create the skyrmions.
The skyrmions become pinned to specific locations on the surface with intentional defects that can be used as a controllable writing surface for data encoded in the skyrmions.
MIT associate professor of materials science and engineering Geoffrey Beach said the key was finding a reliable way to create the skyrmions when and where they were needed.
Beach documented the existence of skyrmions, but the particles’ locations on a surface were entirely random. Now, Beach has collaborated with others to demonstrate experimentally for the first time that they can create these particles at will in specific locations, which is the next key requirement for using them in a data storage system.
The skyrmions are stable to external perturbations, unlike the individual magnetic poles in a conventional magnetic storage device, meaning that data can be stored using only a small area of magnetic surface—possibly just a few atoms across.
This enables vastly more data to be written onto a surface of a given size at very high speeds, making it efficient not only as a substitute for magnetic media like hard discs, but also for much faster memory systems used in Random Access Memory (RAM) for computation.
However, they are still lacking an effective way to read out the data once it has been stored, which right now, can only be done using X-ray magnetic spectroscopy, which requires equipment too complex and expensive to be part of a practical computer memory system.
The researchers now plan to examine better ways to get the information back out, including using an additional metal layer added to the other layers that may be possible to detect differences in the layer’s electrical resistance depending on whether a skyrmion is present or not in the adjacent layer.
The study was published in Nature Nanotechnology.