Minute magnetic particles, whether bonded to plastic tape or coated onto a hard disk, are the basis of modern data storage. Information is encoded in the magnetic orientation of these nanoparticles, but particles can sometimes switch orientations spontaneously, which can potentially corrupt data.
Now researchers from Lawrence Berkeley and Argonne National Laboratories report that this switching unfolds in a more complicated manner than was previously thought.
Their work is published in Physical Review Letters and highlighted in the September 14 issue of Physics.
Scientists have long known that spin flipping becomes more likely as the size of a nanoparticle cluster dwindles. But Stefan Krause and his team discovered that this is not the end of the story. Flipping happens as a kind of chain reaction along a cluster, and the shape of a cluster can help or hinder this propagation.
Manipulating the shape of a cluster and even inserting impurities can determine whether a switch is more or less likely to be triggered and propagate, potentially adding a new dimension of control to the design of magnetic devices.
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