For thousands of years, humans have been captivated by magnetism. It has allowed for the development of various technological applications, from compasses and electric motors to generators. Without the phenomenon of ferromagnetism, these devices would not exist. While the field of ferromagnetism has been extensively researched, there is growing interest in exploring other forms of magnetism that have the potential to revolutionize secure data storage and quantum computing.
Searching for novel forms of magnetism and gaining full control over them is an incredibly challenging task. Andrej Pustogow, the leader of an international research team at TU Wien, emphasizes the difficulty of this endeavor. Magnetism arises from the behavior of electrons, and magnetism can also be generated through the collective alignment of the magnetic moments in a material. However, continuously changing the type of magnetism in a crystal has not been possible until now.
In certain crystal structures, such as triangular, kagome, or honeycomb lattices, a phenomenon known as “geometrical frustration” occurs. This occurs when arrangements of electron spins result in multiple identical alternatives. In these structures, some spins do not have a partner and create unpaired magnetic moments. These unpaired moments have the potential to be manipulated for data storage and computational operations in quantum computers, but the challenge lies in precisely controlling the symmetry of the crystal lattice and the magnetic properties.
To address this problem, the research team led by Andrej Pustogow turned to the power of mechanical pressure. They sought to change the magnetism in a crystal by applying uniaxial stress and deforming the crystal lattice. By exerting pressure, they could modify the magnetic interactions between the electrons. Pustogow compares this to real-life situations where stress can reduce frustration by forcing a decision upon individuals. The team successfully increased the temperature of the magnetic phase transition by more than 10%.
While a 10% increase in temperature may not seem significant at first glance, Pustogow highlights the potential consequences. If the freezing point of water were raised by 10%, it would freeze at 27°C, dramatically impacting the world as we know it. The ability to manipulate geometric frustration through mechanical stress opens up incredible possibilities for material properties. Researchers now aim to increase frustration to completely eliminate antiferromagnetism and achieve a quantum spin liquid.
The breakthrough achieved by Pustogow and his team in continuously changing the type of magnetism in a crystal “by pushing a button” holds great promise. This newfound capability has the potential to unlock undreamed-of manipulations of material properties. By understanding and controlling the symmetry of crystal lattices, scientists can harness the power of magnetism for various applications, including secure data storage and quantum computing.
Magnetism has fascinated humanity for centuries, and through continuous research, scientists have made significant strides in understanding and harnessing its power. The ability to manipulate magnetism “by pushing a button” is a major breakthrough that opens up exciting possibilities for technological advancements. With further exploration and innovation, the potential for quantum spin liquid systems and advanced material properties can revolutionize various fields, shaping the future of technology as we know it.