A new study suggests atomically thin magnetic materials could lead the way to new memory technologies.

To date, magnetic materials are considered the backbone of current digital information technologies, including such fundamental aspects as hard disk storage. A team of researchers from the University of Washington have taken advantage of this technology and improved it to potentially make a denser and more energy efficient data storage.

In a study published by the team in the journal Science, they demonstrated how they used stacks of ultrathin materials to control the flow of electrons based on their spins’ direction. The group reportedly used chromium sheets tri-iodide (CrI3), considered the first 2D magnetic insulator.

According to the study, four atomically thin sheets of the said material made the thinnest system that could stop electrons from spinning while applying over ten times stronger control than other methods today.

“Our work reveals the possibility to push information storage based on magnetic technologies to the atomically thin limit,” Tiancheng Song, co-lead author of the paper and a doctoral student in physics at the University of Washington, said.

In an earlier study published by the researchers in Nature Nanotechnology last month, they reported that they were able to find ways to control the magnetic properties of the atomically thin magnet using electricity.

Read More: This new Metal-Free Metamaterial Controls Electromagnetic Waves

“With the explosive growth of information, the challenge is how to increase the density of data storage while reducing operation energy. The combination of both works points to the possibility of engineering atomically thin magnetic memory devices with energy consumption orders of magnitude smaller than what is currently achievable,” Xiandong Xu, a faculty researcher at the UW Clean Energy Institute, said.

By sandwiching the two layers of CrI3 between conducting sheets, the researchers were able to demonstrate that electrons could either flow unimpeded between the graphene sheets or be blocked from flowing depending on how the spins are aligned between the CrI3 sheets.

With four layers of CrI3, the team found that there’s a potential for multi-bit information storage to be created. Apparently, there are more combinations of spins between layers of three or four CrI3 sheets that could lead to multiple unique rates at which the electrons can flow within the magnetic material.

“We hope that with developed electrical control of magnetism and some ingenuity, these tunnel junctions can operate with reduced or even without the need for a magnetic field at high temperature, which could be a game changer for new memory technology,” Xu went on to say.

Aside from new storage technologies, where else do you think this latest discovery could have useful applications?

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