Experiments being conducted at the Canadian Light Source are paving the way for creating more powerful and more energy-efficient electronic devices.
Robert Green, an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) department of physics, is one of the scientists who conceived the project.
The experiments involved a nickel oxide-based material – one of a group known as “correlated materials” – grown in layers about one-thousandth the thickness of a human hair.
Researchers studied a unique property the material takes on when cooled – at the nanoscale, the magnetism in the crystal structure takes on a spiral shape.
“What we did here … to see if we could tune them a bit to make them do what we wanted – a bit of an engineering aspect to see if we could design some functionality into these materials,” Green said in a press release.
“We did a cutting-edge type of experiment at the (Canadian Light Source) where we used very specifically tuned X-rays having specific energies that interact strongly with the magnetism in the material.”
What researchers found was they could control the magnetism in the atoms to re-align them in a straight line, rather than the spiral shape.
Researchers can now try to design new correlated materials using the same kind of magnetic engineering.
Unlike silicon, which is currently used in electronics, individual electrons in correlated materials interact strongly with each other. U of S officials said this interaction can lead to unique emerging properties that could be harnessed for use in future generations of electronic devices.
Green said collaborators at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Germany were able to reproduce the effect with their calculations.
However, he cautioned the current science is at a fundamental level and researchers are still trying to understand what they can make the materials do in terms of magnetism.
“Ideally, in the future, we can find some related material whose magnetism we can control at room temperature,” Green said.
“You can then potentially build next-generation devices that take up less energy, are more powerful, or have entirely different functionalities than present day electronics.”
The Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon is a research facility used by over 1,000 scientists from around the globe annually.