Scientists have discovered new properties of magnetism that could change our computers

Our electronic devices can no longer shrink and are on the verge of overheating. But in a new discovery from the University of Copenhagen, researchers have discovered a fundamental property of magnetism that could become relevant to the development of a new generation of computers that are more powerful and cooler.

The continuous miniaturization of computer hardware components that contain electrons as a means of transmitting information has become a challenge. Alternatively, it may be possible to use magnetism and thus pursue the development of cheaper and more powerful computers. That’s one possibility as scientists from the Niels Bohr Institute (NBI) at the University of Copenhagen published a new discovery today in the journal. nature of communication.

The job of a computer is to send an electric current through a microchip. Although the amount is accurate, the current will not only carry the information, but also help heat the chip. When you have a lot of tightly packed ingredients, the heat gets hot, and that’s one of the reasons we go so far as to reduce ingredients. “A computer based on magnetism can avoid the problem of overheating,” says Professor Kim Leffman, condensed matter physicist, NBI.

“Our discovery is not a direct recipe for making a computer based on magnetism. Instead, we reveal a fundamental property of magnetism that you must control if you want to design such a computer.”

Quantum mechanics stop acceleration

To understand this discovery, one must know that magnetic materials are not necessarily oriented uniformly. In other words, regions with north and south magnetic poles can exist side by side. These regions are called domains, and the boundary between the North and South Pole domains is the domain wall. Although the domain wall is not a physical thing, it has many particle-like properties. Hence it is an example of what physicists call quasiparticles, i.e. hypothetical phenomena that are similar to particles.

“It is well established that one can move the position of a domain wall by applying a magnetic field. Initially, the wall will interact similarly with a material object subject to gravity and accelerate until it hits the surface below. However, other laws apply to the quantum world,” explains Kim Lefman.

“At the quantum level, particles are not just things, they are waves as well. This also applies to quasiparticles such as the domain wall. The properties of the waves indicate that the acceleration slows down when the wall interacts with atoms in the environment. .Soon the acceleration will stop completely, and the position of the wall will begin to oscillate . »

Swizz’s premise inspired

A similar phenomenon is observed for electrons. They are known here as Bloch oscillations after the Swiss-American physicist and Nobel laureate Felix Bloch who discovered them in 1929. In 1996 Swiss theoretical physicists suggested that de Bloch oscillations could exist in magnetism. Now, just over a quarter century later, Kim Leifman and his colleagues have succeeded in confirming this hypothesis. The research team studied the motion of the domain walls in the magnetic material CoCl2 ∙ 2D2O.

“We’ve known 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. Neutrons uniquely interact with magnetic fields even though they are not electrically charged. This makes them ideal for magnetic studies,” says Kim Lefman.

Promote research in magnetism

Neutron sources are extensive scientific tools. Worldwide, there are only about 20 facilities and competition for beam time is fierce. Therefore, the team has only now been able to obtain enough data to satisfy the editors of Nature Communications.

“We had beam time at NIST in the US and ILL in France respectively. Fortunately, the magnetic search conditions will improve greatly when the ESS (European Spallation source, editor’s note) is run in Lund, Sweden. Our chances at beam time will not improve significantly. Only, because Denmark is co-owner of the facility. The quality of the results will be about 100 times better, because the ESS will be a very powerful neutron source,” says Kim Leffman.

To be clear, he points out that even if quantum mechanics were involved, a computer based on magnetism would not be a type of quantum computer:

In the future, quantum computers should be able to handle very complex tasks. But even then, we will still need traditional computers for more ordinary computing. This is where magnetism-based computers can become better alternatives to current computers. . »

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