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Skyrmions open a door to next-level data storage

Knots in magnetic materials could one day make for faster, sturdier, tinier electronics

By
3:03pm, February 7, 2018
skyrmion illustration

MAGNETIC KNOTS  A skyrmion is a swirl (red) among the atoms of a magnetic material. Here, cones point in the direction of each atom’s magnetization. Skyrmions come in several types; this one, a Néel skyrmion, is found in thin materials.

Like sailors and spelunkers, physicists know the power of a sturdy knot.

Some physicists have tied their hopes for a new generation of data storage to minuscule knotlike structures called skyrmions, which can form in magnetic materials. Incredibly tiny and tough to undo, magnetic skyrmions could help feed humankind’s hunger for ever-smaller electronics.

On traditional hard drives, the magnetic regions that store data are about 10 times as large as the smallest skyrmions. Ranging from a nanometer to hundreds of nanometers in diameter, skyrmions “are probably the smallest magnetic systems … that can be imagined or that can be realized in nature,” says physicist Vincent Cros of Unité Mixte de Physique CNRS/Thales in Palaiseau, France.

What’s more, skyrmions can easily move through a material, pushed along by an electric current. The magnetic knots’ nimble nature suggests that skyrmions storing data in a computer could be shuttled

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