Data centers around the world use an enormous amount of power for the magnetic storage of data. The Dutch data centers already account for about 3 percent of the total power consumption, for example. A new method that influences magnets with laser light makes storage faster, cheaper and more efficient. This saves electricity and ultimately also leads to a smaller CO2 footprint.
Magnets consist of all kinds of small magnets called spins. Normally, the spins all point in the same direction and thus determine the north and south poles. But it also happens that the directions of spins together form a swirling pattern. This is called a skyrmion.
Convert magnetic spins with laser light
It was already known that you can convert a pattern of magnetic spins with laser light. Physicists have now discovered a new route that makes this possible very quickly. Namely, in less than 300 picoseconds (one millionth of a millionth of a second).
‘Those skyrmions in magnets are attractive for new forms of data storage’, says Johan Mentink, physicist at Radboud University. Scientists from Nijmegen have long been looking for optimal ways to control magnetism with laser light, in order to eventually use it for more efficient data storage. With this technique, short pulses of light are fired at a magnetic material and thus the magnetic spins in the material are reversed, so that a bit changes from a 0 to a 1.
Store much more data on a smaller surface
There is a great need for faster and more efficient ways of data storage. More and more data is stored in the ‘cloud’. For that, those gigantic energy-guzzling data centers are needed. Magnetic skyrmions can provide a solution to this problem. They are very small in themselves, and because you can create them very quickly with light. As a result, a lot of information can potentially be stored very quickly and efficiently on a small surface.
The transition between two states in a magnet – from spins in one direction to a skyrmion – can be seen as a high mountain peak that you have to overcome. The researchers have found that you can, as it were, cut the mountain pass through the material very quickly. and briefly heated with a laser pulse. The threshold for the phase transition is thus made lower for a very short time.
Free electron laser in Hamburg
The special thing about this new route is that the material is first brought into a very chaotic state, in which the topology, or the number of skyrmions in the material, fluctuates strongly. The researchers were only able to find this route by combining X-rays from the European free electron laser in Hamburg with super-advanced electron microscopy and spin dynamics simulations. ‘This makes the research an enormous team effort’, Mentink emphasizes.
With this fundamental discovery, a new chapter in topology has begun. “I now expect many more scientists to look for similarly fast ways to” cut the mountain pass “in other materials,” says Mentink.
The research was published Oct. 5 in Nature Materials.
The research was a collaboration between MIT (Boston), Max-Born-Institut (Berlin), Johannes Gutenberg Universität (Mainz), European XFEL (Hamburg), Technische Universität Berlin, Universität Göttingen, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, Universität Heidelberg, Politecnico di Milano and Radboud University.
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