Antiferromagnets: "Our discovery is real and proven"
Antiferromagnets: "Our discovery is real and proven"
Interview with Dr. Libor Šmejkal, Research team leader, Institute for Physics, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
The Hall effect – discovered in 19th century – refers to a deflection of electrons from straight trajectories in an applied magnetic field. When the material is ferromagnetic, this deflection is much stronger and is present even without the external magnetic field. These transverse electronic states are moving without dissipation, so the electrons do not lose energy. However, the presence of other states and ferromagnetic disturbing stray fields hinder further progress in this exciting science and technology area. Dr. Šmejkal's recent results suggest an unexpected progress.
Dr. Libor Šmejkal
Dr. Šmejkal, what is the problem on which your research focuses?
Dr. Libor Šmejkal: Many fascinating and technologically important nanoelectronics components rely on ferromagnetism. A notorious example is a magnetic hard-drive read head in computer. The problem is that the ferromagnetism produces stray fields which limit the scaling of devices and can disturb other parts of the electronics circuits. Also, they can destroy the states with low dissipation promising for next generation nanoelectronics devices. Ferromagnets are also often highly metallic what hinders to separate the low dissipation states from the other conventional states which do dissipate energy and limit the efficiency of the device.
So, on one hand, you need them to generate the effect, and on the other hand, they are an obstacle. People observed the dissipationless limit of Hall effect only either at very low temperatures at like minus 200-something degrees of Celsius or at extremely huge applied magnetic fields. You can imagine that you can’t have a huge fridge or magnet in your computer or some medical applications.
Interestingly, in the 1930s another class of magnets was discovered, which are called antiferromagnets. Antiferromagnets have antiparallel moments in the crystals. If you zoom in to the atomic sites in the material, the moments are not all oriented in one direction, as in ferromagnets, but they are like a checkerboard: Up, down, up, down, and so on (marked by red and blue in Fig 1).
However, for many decades scientist believed, that due to their alternating moment structure they will not produce effects present in ferromagnets. And that brings us to our discovery of "ferromagnetic effects" in antiferromagnetic substances. We were asking the question: Is it even possible to suppress the unwanted dipolar fields without killing the magnetic effects itself? Can we find some systems which are better for applications?
We found out that if we distribute in a checkerboard antiferromagnet cage of nonmagnetic atoms in a tricky way, we can keep the material antiferromagnetic, but they will start to have magnetic effects! Practically, we were simulating the relativistic quantum-mechanical effects of such materials on supercomputers (Fig 2). And we found that, in contrast to what is known, a new form of magnetization densities and in trun also Hall current arises in these materials!
When you look at the conventional magnets like iron, the magnetization densities are very symmetric, they look like balloons around the atoms. Also, many conventional antiferromagnets have highly spherical magnetisation densities (see Fig.1 left). Unfortunately, the magnetic effects precisely compensate by the oppositely polarized spherical magnetisation clouds. Surprisingly, we have discovered that the magnetization densities are shaped more like dumbbells in our new class of antiferromagnets. This new distribution of magnetic density does not lead to compensation of the magnetic effects such as the Hall current as can be intuitively understood from the anisotropic shapes shown in Fig. 1 right .
However, at the same time, the magnetization densities integrate to zero so there are no stray fields which is exactly what we wanted to have. All the great magnetic effects and moving electrons without dissipation at room temperature without stray fields! The next step is to push these electrons to the edges because then we could remove the states which remain in the bulk, which are highly conductive and decrease the efficiency. Then we would be very close to the dream of having only these dissipation-less states at the room temperature in a perfectly compensated antiferromagnetic substance.
Figure 1: Left: Conventional antiferromagnet with "ballon" mangetisation density and no Hall current. Right: Discovered form of antiferromagnetism with a "dumbell" shaped magnetisation density and low dissipation Hall current.
Could you explain the connections to the medical technology?
Šmejkal: The first connection is in terms of magnetic sensors and memories. Most of these technologies are based on the ferromagnetic multilayers with the complicated stray fields. Our new class of antiferromagnets exhibit practically at least three order of magnitude smaller stray fields. Also, while existing ferromagnetic technology works in gigahertz frequencies, the antiferromagnetic natural frequencies are in terahertz and such devices can be thus 1000 x faster. Here we have the potential application where we can improve the existing technology.
The second application is more about inventing brand new nanoelectronics component used in any industry including automotive and also medical technology. It’s not only about the sensors, memories, magnetic resonance technologies etc. anymore, but it can be in any part of nanoelectronic devices. Because our new antiferromagnets can potentially drive and move the electrons with much less heating and much less energy loss than existing technologies – but here we’re talking about more futuristic outlook.
Products and exhibitors dealing with microtechnology
Are you interested in microtechnology? You will find exhibitors and products in the COMPAMED catalog:
Figure 2: Unit cell of a real crystal of rutile antiferromagnet. In the background a visualisition of an effective relativistic quantum mechanical field which produces Hall current is shown.
You mentioned the antiferromagnetism is much more common in nature than ferromagnetism. Could this increase the sustainability in nanoelectronics?
Šmejkal: Yes, definitely. Many of the systems humanity was investigating for more than 100 years are hindering the progress in sustainability. The conventional nanoelectronics research materials are often composed of rare, heavy, expensive, or even toxic elements and are very difficult to be driven into the low dissipation states. In sharp contrast, our antiferromagnetic systems can provide for the existing and novel dissipationless nanoelectronics functionalities without relying on these heavy and expensive elements. In addition, our antiferromagnets turned out to be very abundant in nature. Devices build from antiferromagnets can thus be cheaper what is very important factor for an industrial success of any emerging technology.
A lot of the materials which are very rare in nature turn out to be also quite fragile. Our systems are much more robust – and we now have experimental proof of that. We already have a first experimental signature where we have already measured the signals. I want to emphasize here that this was collaborative multidisciplinary effort with our friends from research institutes in Mainz, Czech Republic, Colombia, China and UK which allowed such a fast and exciting progress. They build the materials which we suggested layer by layer, atom by atom, and they found exact correspondence to our theory. That means, our discovery is now experimentally verified and opens many new opportunities.
The interview was conducted by Kyra Molinari. COMPAMED-tradefair.com