Scientists discover new properties of magnetism that could change our computers

(ORDO NEWS) — Our electronics can no longer shrink in size and are on the verge of overheating. But in a new discovery made at the University of Copenhagen, researchers have uncovered a fundamental property of magnetism that could be relevant to the development of a new generation of more powerful and cooler computers.

The ongoing miniaturization of components for computers that use electrons as the vehicle for transmitting information has become problematic.

Instead, one could use magnetism and thereby support the development of both cheaper and more powerful computers. That is one perspective that scientists from the Niels Bohr Institute (NBI), University of Copenhagen, published today in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

“The job of a computer is to run an electrical current through the microchip. Although the amount is negligible, the current not only carries information, but also contributes to the heating of the chip. When a huge number of components are tightly packed, heating becomes a problem.

This is one of the reasons why we have reached the limit of how much we can reduce the size of the components. A computer based on magnetism will avoid the problem of overheating,” says Professor Kim Lefmann, condensed matter physicist, NBI.

“Our discovery is not a direct recipe for building a computer based on magnetism. Rather, we have revealed a fundamental magnetic property that must be controlled if you want to create such a computer.”

Quantum mechanics stops acceleration

To understand the discovery, one must know that magnetic materials are not necessarily oriented uniformly. In other words, regions with north and south magnetic poles can exist next to each other.

Such regions are called domains, and the boundary between the north and south poles is called a domain wall. Although the domain wall is not a physical object, it nevertheless has a number of particle-like properties. Thus, it is an example of what physicists call quasiparticles, that is, virtual phenomena that resemble particles.

“It is well known that it is possible to move the position of a domain wall by applying a magnetic field. Initially, the wall will react similarly to a physical object that is under the influence of gravity and accelerates until it collides with the surface below it. However, in the quantum world, other laws apply” explains Kim Lefman.

“At the quantum level, particles are not only objects, but also waves. This also applies to a quasiparticle such as a domain wall. Wave properties mean that acceleration slows down as the wall interacts with atoms in the environment. Soon the acceleration will completely stop , and the position of the wall will begin to oscillate.”

Swizz’s hypothesis was the inspiration

A similar phenomenon is observed for electrons. Here it is known as Bloch oscillations, named after the American-Swiss physicist and Nobel laureate Felix Bloch, who discovered them in 1929. In 1996, Swiss theoretical physicists suggested that a parallel to Bloch oscillations could exist in magnetism.

Now – just over a quarter of a century later – Kim Lefman and his colleagues have managed to confirm this hypothesis. The research team studied the motion of domain walls in the magnetic material CoCl2 ∙ 2D2O.

“We knew for a long time that it would be possible to test the hypothesis, but we also understood that this would require access to neutron sources. Uniquely, neutrons respond to magnetic fields despite the absence of an electric charge. This makes them ideal for magnetic research,” – says Kim Lefmann.

Push for Research in Magnetics

Neutron sources are large-scale scientific instruments. There are only about twenty installations in the world, and the competition for beam time is very fierce. Therefore, only now the team managed to obtain enough data to satisfy the editors of Nature Communications.

“We had time at NIST in the USA and ILL in France respectively. Fortunately, the conditions for magnetic research will improve significantly after the commissioning of the ESS (European Spallation Source, ed.) in Lund, Sweden.

Not only our chances for beam time The quality of the results will be about 100 times better because the ESS will be an extremely powerful neutron source,” says Kim Lefmann.

To be clear, he emphasizes that despite the involvement of quantum mechanics, a computer based on magnetism would not be a kind of quantum computer:

“In the future, quantum computers are expected to be able to solve extremely complex problems. But even then, for more conventional computing, we will still need conventional computers. This is where magnetism-based computers can become a relevant alternative, since they are better than current computers.”

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