Big Data And Skyrmions

Today’s world, rapidly changing because of “big data”, is encapsulated in trillions of tiny magnetic objects magnetic bits – each of which stores one bit of data in magnetic disk drives.   A group of scientists from the Max Planck Institutes in Halle and Dresden have discovered a new kind of magnetic nano-object in a novel material that could serve as a magnetic bit with cloaking properties to make a magnetic disk drive with no moving parts – a Racetrack Memory – a reality in the near future.

Most digital data is stored in the cloud as magnetic bits within massive numbers of magnetic disk drives.  Over the past several decades these magnetic bits have shrunk by many orders of magnitude, reaching limits where the boundaries of these magnetic regions can have special properties.  In some special materials these boundaries – “magnetic domain walls” – can be described as being topological. What this means is that these walls can be thought of as having a special magical cloak – what is referred to by scientists as “topological protection”.   An important consequence is that such magnetic walls are more stable to perturbations than similar magnetic bits without topological protection that are formed in conventional magnetic materials.  Thus, these “topological magnetic objects could be especially useful for storing1”s and “0”s, the basic elements of digital data.   One such object is a “magnetic skyrmion” which is a tiny magnetic region, perhaps tens to hundreds of atoms wide, separated from a surrounding magnetic region by a chiral domain wall.  Until recently only one type of skyrmion has been found in which it is surrounded by a chiral domain wall that takes the same form in all directions.   But there have been predictions of several other types of skyrmions that were not yet observed.

Now in a paper published in Nature, scientists from Prof. Stuart Parkin’s NISE department at the Max Planck Institute for Microstructure Physics in Halle, Germany, have found a second class of skyrmions, what are called “anti-skyrmions”, in materials synthesized in Prof. Claudia Felser.   The scientists from Halle and Dresden have found these tiny magnetic objects in a special class of versatile magnetic compounds called Heusler compounds.   Of these Heusler compounds, a tiny subset have just the right crystal symmetry to allow for the possibility of forming anti-skyrmions but not skyrmions.

The special cloaking properties of skyrmions makes them of great interest for a radically new form of solid-state memorythe Racetrack Memory. In Racetrack Memory digital data is encoded within magnetic domain walls that are packed closely within nanoscopic magnetic wires.  One of the unique features of Racetrack Memory, which is distinct from all other memories, is that the walls are moved around the nanowires themselves using recent discoveries in spin-orbitronics domain walls.  Very short pulses of current move all the backwards and forwards along the nano-wires. The walls – the magnetic bits – can be read and written by devices incorporated directly into the nanowires themselves, thereby eliminating any mechanical parts.



A team of scientists led by Associate Professor Yang Hyunsoo from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Engineering has invented a novel ultra-thin multilayer film which could harness the properties of tiny magnetic whirls, known as skyrmions, as information carriers for storing and processing data (nanocomputer) on magnetic media. The nano-sized thin film, which was developed in collaboration with researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and Louisiana State University, is a critical step towards the design of data storage devices that use less power and work faster than existing memory technologies.

The digital transformation has resulted in ever-increasing demands for better processing and storing of large amounts of data, as well as improvements in hard drive technology. Since their discovery in magnetic materials in 2009, skyrmions, which are tiny swirling magnetic textures only a few nanometres in size, have been extensively studied as possible information carriers in next-generation data storage and logic devices.

Skyrmions have been shown to exist in layered systems, with a heavy metal placed beneath a ferromagnetic material. Due to the interaction between the different materials, an interfacial symmetry breaking interaction, known as the Dzyaloshinskii-Moriya interaction (DMI), is formed, and this helps to stabilise a skyrmion. However, without an out-of-plane magnetic field present, the stability of the skyrmion is compromised. In addition, due to its tiny size, it is difficult to image the nano-sized materials. The NUS team found that a large DMI could be maintained in multilayer films composed of cobalt and palladium, and this is large enough to stabilise skyrmion spin textures.

skyrmionsThis experiment not only demonstrates the usefulness of L-TEM in studying these systems, but also opens up a completely new material in which skyrmions can be created. Without the need for a biasing field, the design and implementation of skyrmion based devices are significantly simplified. The small size of the skyrmions, combined with the incredible stability generated here, could be potentially useful for the design of next-generation spintronic devices that are energy efficient and can outperform current memory technologies,” explains Professor Yang .

The invention was reported in the journal Nature Communications.