"Magnetic tornado" aimed at changing data storage techniques

Hard to imagine something spinning so wildly as a tornado could be used to store data but researchers said recently that they have discovered a way to control the rotation - or      chirality - of "magnetic tornadoes" in way  that could  enable the writing and reading of digital information with greater sensitivity, reliability and efficiency, they said.

Conventional computer memories store data in "bits" that consist of two magnetic elements that record data in binary form. When these elements are magnetized in the same direction, the computer reads the bit as a "0"; when magnetized in opposite directions, the bit represents a "1," researchers stated.

According to scientists, a vortex forms spontaneously - one vortex per disk - in a small magnetic disk when the disk's diameter falls below a certain limit. Although the vortex does not whirl about like a meteorological tornado, the atoms in the material do orient themselves so that their magnetic states, or "moments," point either clockwise or counterclockwise around the disk's surface. At the center of the disk, the density of this rotation causes the polarity of the vortex core to point either up out of the disk or down like a tornado's funnel, researchers stated.

Because the vortices that form on the disks contain two independently controllable and accessible magnetic parameters, they could form the basis for quaternary bits that would contain data written as a 0, 1, 2, or 3. "This technology could change the way we look at how to store data electronically," said Argonne materials scientist Mihaela Tanase.

The magnetic tornado research is being conducted collaboratively amongst Argonne, Seagate Technology and Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona. The research is being funded by the Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program in the US Department of Energy's Office of Science. The BES mission is to foster and support fundamental research to expand the scientific foundations for new and improved energy technologies and for understanding and mitigating the environmental impacts of energy use.

Tanase said prior research had shown the way to create the "tornadoes" and control their polarity, scientists had until recently not found an effective way to prevent the chirality from switching randomly between its alternate states. "The hardest part is finding out how to reverse the chirality in a reproducible way," Tanase said.

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