Breakthroughs in magnetic quantum materials paved the way for ultra-fast sustainable computers

April 13, 2023

(Nanowerk News) The discovery of new quantum materials with magnetic properties is believed to pave the way for computers and mobile devices that are extremely fast and much more energy efficient. So far, this type of material has been shown to only work in very cold temperatures. Now, a research team at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden is the first to make a device made of a two-dimensional magnetic quantum material work at room temperature (Advanced Materials, “Room Temperature Spin-Valve with van der Waals Ferromagnet Fe5GeTe2/ HeteroGraphene Structure”). The researchers have for the first time successfully demonstrated the device, based on 2D magnetic materials, at room temperature. The 2D magnetic crystals are shown as blue, yellow and white balls and are a mixture of Iron, Tellurium and Germanium atoms. The large turquoise arrow indicates the direction of magnetization of the 2D magnets. The crystals in gray are the carbon atoms of the graphene channels. The smaller turquoise arrows indicate the spin polarized electrons injected from the 2D magnets into the graphene channels. Here, the 2D magnet acts as a source of spin-polarized electrons and a graphene channel for spin transport and communication. (Image: Chalmers University of Technology)

Today’s rapid IT expansion is creating massive amounts of digital data that need to be stored, processed and communicated. This comes with a growing need for energy – projected to consume more than 30 percent of the world’s total energy consumption by 2050. To address the problem, the research community has tapped into a new paradigm in materials science. Research and development of two-dimensional quantum materials, which form in sheets and are only a few atoms thick, has opened new doors for sustainable, faster, and more energy-efficient data storage and processing in computers and mobile phones.

The first thin-atom material isolated in the laboratory was graphene, a single-atom-thick graphite field, which earned the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics. And in 2017, a two-dimensional material with magnetic properties was discovered for the first time. Magnets play a fundamental role in our everyday lives, from sensors in cars and household appliances to computer data storage and memory technology, and their inventions are opening up new and more sustainable solutions for a wide range of technological devices.

“Two-dimensional magnetic materials are more sustainable because they are atomically thin and offer unique magnetic properties that make them attractive for developing new, energy-efficient and ultra-fast applications for sensors and advanced magnetic memory and computing concepts. This makes them promising candidates for a variety of different technologies,” said Saroj Dash, Professor of Quantum Device Physics at Chalmers University of Technology.

The first to demonstrate a 2D magnet-based device at room temperature So far, researchers have only been able to demonstrate two-dimensional magnetism at very low temperatures in a laboratory environment, called cryogenic temperatures, hindering their wider use in society. But now a group of researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have been able to demonstrate, for the first time, a device based on a new two-dimensional magnetic material at room temperature. They use an iron based alloy (Fe5GeTe2) with graphene which can be used as a source and detector of spin* polarized electrons. And this breakthrough is now believed to enable various technical applications in several industries as well as in our daily lives.

“These 2D magnets can be used to develop ultra-compact, faster and more energy-efficient memory devices in computers. They can also be used to develop highly sensitive magnetic sensors for a variety of applications, including biomedical and environmental monitoring, navigation, and communications,” explained Bing Zhao, post-doc in Quantum Device Physics and first author of the study.

* Conventional electronic logic devices are based on nonmagnetic semiconductors and use the flow of electric 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 convert electrical and magnetic signals. By combining processing, storage, sensing and logic in one integrated platform, spintronics can complement and, in some cases, outperform semiconductor-based electronics, offering advantages in terms of scalability, power consumption and data processing speed.

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