The discovery of new quantum materials with magnetic properties could pave the way for ultra-fast and considerably more energy-efficient computers and mobile devices. So far, however, these types of materials have been shown to work only at extremely cold temperatures. Now, for the first time, a research team at Chalmers University of Technology, Lund University and Uppsala University in Sweden has created a two-dimensional (2D) magnetic quantum material that works at room temperature.
Today’s rapid expansion of information technology (IT) is generating massive amounts of digital data that needs to be stored, processed and communicated. This requires energy, and IT is projected to account for over 30% of the world’s total energy consumption by 2050. To solve this problem, the research community is entering a new paradigm in materials science. The research and development of 2D quantum materials is opening new doors for sustainable, faster and more energy-efficient data storage and processing in computers and mobiles.
The first atomically thin material to be isolated in a laboratory was graphene, a single atom-thick layer of carbon atoms, which garnered the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics. And in 2017, 2D materials with magnetic properties were discovered for the first time. The discovery of 2D magnets opened the way for 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," says Saroj Dash, professor in quantum device physics at Chalmers University of Technology. “This makes them promising candidates for a range of different technologies.”
So far, however, researchers had only been able to demonstrate 2D magnets at extremely low temperatures, so called cryogenic temperatures, in laboratory environments, inhibiting their broader use. But now the group of researchers in this recent study has managed to develop a 2D magnetic material that works at room temperature.
The material combines an iron-based alloy (Fe5GeTe2) with graphene, and can be used as a source and detector for spin-polarized electrons. These are utilized in so-called spintronic devices, which 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, outperform semiconductor-based electronics, offering advantages in terms of scaling, power consumption and data-processing speed.
“These 2D magnets can be used to develop ultra-compact, faster and more energy-efficient memory devices in computers,” explains Bing Zhao, a post-doc in quantum device physics at Chalmers University of Technology and first author of a paper on this work in Advanced Materials. “They may also be used to develop highly sensitive magnetic sensors for a wide range of applications, including biomedical and environmental monitoring, navigation and communication.”