PORTLAND, Ore. Perpendicular magnetic recordings can now be switched from hard (permanent) to soft (erasable) by way of a discovery recently made at the University College London. Using a designer material with strong anisotropy, the researchers demonstrated how to switch magnetic domains from permanent to erasable by applying a longitudinal magnetic field to modulate the domain-walls' strength.
"Our idea for changing a magnet from hard to soft involves applying a small magnetic field orthogonal to the preferred direction for the magnetization," said professor Gabriel Aeppli at the University College London, director of its London Centre for Nanotechnology. "This magnetic field can then be used to modulate the strength of the domain wall pinning, which is what determines whether we have a hard or a soft magnet."
Using an orthogonal magnet to switch a perpendicular domain wall from hard/permanent to soft/erasable is a new idea, according to Aeppli, and can only be performed with certain magnetic formulae with strong anisotropy, such as those used for perpendicular hard-disk media.
"The magnets that we are dealing with have a strong anisotropy, meaning that the magnetization lies preferentially along one direction of the material," said Aeppli. "In a disk drive, for example, we talk about 'perpendicular' recording media, where the magnetization is perpendicular to the plane of the disk."
The London Centre for Nanotechnology currently is protecting its intellectual property rights regarding perpendicular recording in disk-drive media, and consequently it is keeping the details of Aeppli's discovery as it applies to hard-disk media a trade secret. But Aeppli claims that electrical engineers will find many other uses for switching magnetics' domain-wall strength.
"Among other things, our discovery will enable transformer cores with tunable inductances, and permanent magnets whose ability to hold objects can be switched on and off," said Aeppli.
Aeppli's research group released photographs imaging ferromagnet domain-walls patterns spaced just 100 nanometers apart, showing how the walls could be moved by changing the force with which they are pinned. First the magnetic domain was that of a hard, permanent magnet with strong pinning, whereas after switching, domain walls exhibited the soft pinning of an erasable magnetic domain.
Aeppli led an international team of scientists, including U.S. members at the University of Chicago, who together contributed to the discovery that magnetic domains can be switched by subjecting them to an orthogonal magnetic field. The scientists demonstrated that magnetic domains could be tuned through a continuous range--from completely hard to completely soft--at low temperatures. Now the group is attempting to extend its work by demonstrating the same tunability at higher temperatures.
The group is also experimenting with doping ferromagnetic materials with impurities to alter their magnetic properties, similar to the way semiconductors are doped to tune their electrical properties. So far, even trace amounts of impurities have been demonstrated to have a huge effect on the magnetic properties of ferromagnetic materials with strong anisotropy.