Scientists create World's Thinnest Magnet that is just a single atom thick

The thinnest magnet in the world is here to break all records. Scientists at Berkeley Labs have shattered the record for the world’s thinnest magnet by creating a magnet with a size of a single atom which is also the first 2D ultra-thin magnet that can operate at room temperature. It’s indeed an extensive achievement in magnetic materials.

The development of the world’s thinnest magnet has opened the doors for new possibilities in technologies particularly in memory devices, and for research into ferromagnetism and quantum physics.

We’re the first to make a room-temperature 2D magnet that is chemically stable under ambient conditions,” said materials scientist Jie Yao of the University of California Berkeley.

How scientists developed this 2D Magnet?

To achieve this feat, as per a research published in Nature, scientists first mixed graphene oxide, zinc, and cobalt and baked all three in the lab, where the transformation to a layer of zinc oxide with cobalt spread around. The thickness of the layer so formed was equal to an atom, which was sandwiched between the two other layers of graphene, which left behind a magnet on burning, 2D film magnet.

World's Thinnest Magnet Coupling Illustration
Illustration of magnetic coupling in the material with red, blue, and yellow spheres representing cobalt, oxygen, and zinc atoms. Credit: Berkeley Lab

Further, scientists discovered that it was possible to change the magnetic properties by altering the cobalt levels within this sandwich. A weak magnet had 5-6 percent cobalt, whereas a strong magnet consisted of 12 percent cobalt. Above 15 percent, scientists named it the frustration state, and in this state, the magnetic properties competed with one another.

According to the author, Rui Chen, “the free electrons present in zinc oxide are the reason for this unique magnetism behavior.” The team has made the magnet millions of time thinner than a sheet so that it is easy to bend it into any shape.

The 2D magnets need low temperature for their functioning, but the practical application requires room temperature. However, the 2D magnet is not only the first to operate at room temperature, but it is also the first magnet to reach the 2D limit. 

“Our 2D magnetic system shows a distinct mechanism compared to previous 2D magnets,” says first study author Rui Chen. “And we think this unique mechanism is due to the free electrons in zinc oxide.”

Applications of The World’s Thinnest Magnet

The size of the magnet makes it flexible for being used in the new technologies, and it will be the most efficient in data storage gadgets. We know that the memory storage devices rely on thin magnetic films, but still, we have three-dimensional magnetic films with a thickness equivalent to hundreds and thousands of atoms.

Thinner atoms and that too just one atom thick atoms can store much higher densities of information.

It will also give rise to a new concept to study in quantum physics, as it would be intriguing to see the interactions between the single magnetic atoms. Last but not least it can be useful in spintronics, the study of the spin of electrons.

“Most of the time in science, experiments can be very challenging. But when you finally realize something new, it’s always very fulfilling,” said Jie Yao.

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