A team led by Materials Science and Engineering Professor Chang-Beom Eom has developed a new approach for creating powerful nanodevices, and the discoveries could pave the way for other researchers to begin more widespread development of these devices.
Particular metal-oxide materials have a unique magneto-electric property that allows the material to switch its magnetic field when its polarization is switched by an electric field, and vice versa. These materials can be used as bases for a variety of magnetoelectric devices that act like signal translators capable of producing electrical, magnetic or even optical responses and can store information in any of these forms.
Essentially, Eom and his team have developed a roadmap to help researchers “couple” a material’s electric and magnetic mechanisms. As researchers run a current through a magnetoelectric device, electric signals follow the electric field like a path. The signals’ ultimate destination could be, as an example, a memory “bank” operated by a magnetic field. When the researchers switch the electric field, the signals encounter a fork in the path. Though both prongs of the fork head in a similar direction, one path is the correct one and will prompt the magnetic field to switch. This will allow the information carried by the signals to be stored in the bank. If the signals take the incorrect path, the magnetic state won’t switch, the bank remains inaccessible, and when the electric field turns off the information is lost.
The team also has developed a matrix that ensures the cross-coupling effect is stable, or non-volatile, which allows for long-term data storage. This matrix is then embedded in thin films.
These two discoveries—the correct path and the stabilizing matrix—will allow other researchers to study the fundamental physics of cross-coupling in materials and begin investigating how to turn the many possibilities of multifunctional devices into reality.