Breakthrough in magnetic quantum materials paves the way for ultra-fast durable computers

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The researchers have for the first time succeeded in demonstrating a device, based on a 2D magnetic material, at room temperature. The 2D magnetic crystal is represented by the blue, yellow and white balls and is a mixture of iron, tellurium and germanium atoms. The big turquoise arrow indicates the magnetization direction of the 2D magnet. The gray colored crystal corresponds to the carbon atoms of the graphene channel. The small turquoise arrows indicate the injected spin-polarized electrons from the 2D magnet into the graphene channel. Here, the 2D magnet acts as a source of spin-polarized electrons and the graphene channel for spin transport and communication. Credit: Chalmers University of Technology

The discovery of new quantum materials with magnetic properties could pave the way for ultra-fast and dramatically more energy-efficient computers and mobile devices. So far, these types of materials have been shown to only work in extremely cold temperatures. Now a research team from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden is the first to operate a device made of a two-dimensional magnetic quantum material at room temperature.

The rapid expansion of computing today generates huge amounts of digital data that must be stored, processed and communicated. With this comes an ever-increasing need for energy, which is expected to consume more than 30% of total global energy consumption by 2050. To combat this problem, the research community has entered a new paradigm in materials science. The research and development of two-dimensional quantum materials, which form in sheets and are only a few atoms thick, have opened new doors for durable, faster and more energy-efficient data storage and processing in computers and mobiles.

The first atomically thin material to be isolated in a lab was graphene, a plane of graphite just one atom thick, which resulted in the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics. And in 2017, two-dimensional materials with magnetic properties were discovered for the first time. Magnets play a fundamental role in our daily lives, from sensors in our cars and household appliances to computer data storage and memory technologies, and the discovery has opened up new, more durable solutions for a wide range of technological devices.

“Two-dimensional magnetic materials are more durable because they are atomically thin and offer unique magnetic properties that make them attractive for the development of new energy-efficient and ultra-fast applications for sensors and advanced magnetic memory and computing concepts. This makes them promising candidates for a range of different technologies,” says Saroj Dash, professor of quantum device physics at Chalmers University of Technology.

The first to demonstrate 2D magnetic devices at room temperature

So far, researchers have only been able to demonstrate two-dimensional magnets at extremely low temperatures in laboratory environments, called cryogenic temperatures, preventing their wider use in society. But now a group of researchers from Chalmers University of Technology have been able to demonstrate, for the very first time, a new device based on two-dimensional magnetic material at room temperature. They used an iron-based alloy (Fe5gete2) with graphene that can be used as a source and detector of spin-polarized electrons. And this breakthrough is now believed to enable a range of technical applications across multiple industries as well as in our daily lives.

“These 2D magnets can be used to develop ultra-compact, faster and more power-efficient memory devices in computers. They can also be used to develop highly sensitive magnetic sensors for a wide range of applications, including biomedical and environmental monitoring, navigation, and communication,” says Bing Zhao, post-doctoral fellow in quantum device physics and first author of the study published in Advanced materials.

Conventional electronic logic devices are based on non-magnetic semiconductors and use the flow of electrical charges to achieve information processing and communication. Spintronic devices, on the other hand, exploit the spin of electrons to generate and control charge currents and to interconvert electrical and magnetic signals. By combining processing, storage, sensing and logic within a single integrated platform, spintronics could complement and in some cases surpass semiconductor-based electronics, offering advantages in terms of scaling, power consumption and data processing speed.

More information:
Bing Zhao et al, A room temperature spin valve with van der Waals Ferromagnet Fe 5 GeTe 2 / Graphene Heterostructure, Advanced materials (2023). DOI: 10.1002/adma.202209113

Journal information:
Advanced materials

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