Synopsis: Pushing the superparamagnetic limit

The unusual properties of a single-atom-thick layer of a ferromagnetic alloy deposited on platinum hint at new possibilities for the further miniaturization of recording devices.
Synopsis figure

The miniaturization of magnetic recording devices, which store information in nanosized magnetic grains or “bits,” is constrained by the so-called superparamagnetic limit: when grains are too small, thermal fluctuations can easily flip the direction of magnetization in each bit, causing permanent loss of information.

The design of a practically useful bit therefore requires finding materials with a high magnetic anisotropy, which is the energy required to flip the spin of a single atom. However, the magnetic field needed to polarize (i.e., “write”) the bit increases with the magnetic anisotropy, unless the magnetization per bit grows as well.

Writing in Physical Review B, Géraud Moulas and co-workers at the EPFL in Switzerland and collaborators in Austria, France, and Spain have made significant progress in achieving high magnetic anisotropies while maintaining acceptable writing fields using monolayer-thick films of FexCo1-x. They find that the magnetic anisotropy is enhanced by more than two orders of magnitude compared to what is found in bulk FeCo alloys. At the same time, the average saturation magnetization is found to grow monotonically from 2μB to 3μB per atom for the case where the alloy is pure Co to the case where it is pure Fe, a striking manifestation of reduced dimensionality. – Ashot Melikyan


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