Teams at the Molecular Foundry Create World’s Thinnest Magnet

The Molecular Foundry
The Molecular Foundry

The development of an ultrathin magnet that operates at room temperature could lead to new applications in computing and electronics – such as high-density, compact spintronic memory devices – and new tools for the study of quantum physics.

The ultrathin magnet, which was recently reported in the journal Nature Communications, could make big advances in next-gen memory devices, computing, spintronics, and quantum physics.

“We’re the first to make a room-temperature 2D magnet that is chemically stable under ambient conditions,” said Foundry user and senior author Jie Yao, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and associate professor of materials science and engineering at UC Berkeley.

The magnetic component of today’s memory devices is typically made of magnetic thin films. But at the atomic level, these materials are still three-dimensional – hundreds or thousands of atoms thick. For decades, researchers have searched for ways to make thinner and smaller 2D magnets and thus enable data to be stored at a much higher density.

The researchers synthesized the new 2D magnet – called a cobalt-doped van der Waals zinc-oxide magnet – from a solution of graphene oxide, zinc, and cobalt.

Just a few hours of baking in a conventional lab oven transformed the mixture into a single atomic layer of zinc-oxide with a smattering of cobalt atoms sandwiched between layers of graphene.

In a final step, the graphene is burned away, leaving behind just a single atomic layer of cobalt-doped zinc-oxide.

To confirm that the resulting 2D film is just one atom thick, Yao and his team conducted scanning electron microscopy experiments at the Foundry to identify the material’s morphology, and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) imaging to probe the material atom by atom.

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