A new, specially-fabricated magnetic material developed at the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN), together with the School of Physics at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, has shown to be the fastest magnetic switch to date, breaking records in the process.

The CRANN researchers used femtosecond laser systems located in its Photonics Research Laboratory to actuate, switching and re-switching the orientation of the new magnetic material in only trillionths of a second - or in the range of picoseconds. The speed of this magnetic switch is approximately six times faster than the previous record and about 100 times faster than the clock speed of today's personal computers.

Researchers report this new magnetic material in the Physical Review Letters in a report titled "Ultrafast Double Pulse All-Optical Reswitching of a Ferrimagnet," originally published last April 27.

Reed Switches, a Magnetically Actuated Switch
(Photo: Sonett72 via Wikimedia Commons)
(From top) Single-pole reed switch, four-pole reed switch, and single-pole reed relay. Scale in centimeters.

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Using an Alloy to Achieve Impressive Speeds

The groundbreaking magnetic switch is developed from an alloy called MRG, which was first synthesized by the group back in 2014 from a mixture of manganese, ruthenium, and gallium. In the new magnetic switch experiment, that exposed thin films of the MRG alloy with bursts of red laser light that delivered great amounts of power in short periods of time - megawatts in a billionth of a second.

In the alloy, the ensuing heat transfer changes the magnetic orientation of the material. It takes only a tenth of a picosecond to achieve the first change in magnetic orientation, an unimaginable actuation speed. More importantly, researchers were able to observe that they can revert the orientation again after 10 trillionths of a second - marking the fastest magnetic switch and re-switch response ever recorded.

Researchers say that the key in successfully demonstrating the speed of this new magnetic material was the fact that this ultrafast switching was done without the use of any external magnetic field. In a conventional magnet switch, another magnet is used to actuate the main magnet, translating to additional time and energy. With the MRG magnetic switch, the material switches only with the use of a heat pulse - creating a material that can be actuated with pulses of light.

Wide Potential for Memory Storage and Processing

"Magnetic materials inherently have memory that can be used for logic. So far, switching from one magnetic state 'logical 0,' to another 'logical 1,' has been too energy-hungry and too slow," explains Trinity College Dublin researchers Jean Besbas and Karsten Rode. They also explained that their new study addresses the limitations in speed by demonstrating that it is possible to switch MRG from one state to another in as fast as 0.1 picoseconds and, more importantly, another possible switching response is possible 10 picoseconds. 

The potential of this new magnetic material has far-reaching implications in the fields of computing, information technology, communications, and more. Despite the emergence of solid-state drives, most of the world's communication systems and data storage requirements still rely on hard disk drives - which rely on magnetic technology to read, store, and write data. As the world needs and processes more and more data, the need for more efficient and faster data storage technologies have become an inevitable necessity.


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