Magnets generate invisible fields that attract certain materials. A common example is fridge magnets. Far more important to our everyday lives, magnets also can store data in computers. Exploiting the direction of the magnetic field (say, up or down), microscopic bar magnets each can store one bit of memory as a zero or a one — the language of computers.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory want to replace the bar magnets with tiny magnetic vortices. As tiny as billionths of a meter, these vortices are called skyrmions, which form in certain magnetic materials. They could one day usher in a new generation of microelectronics for memory storage in high performance computers.
“The bar magnets in computer memory are like shoelaces tied with a single knot; it takes almost no energy to undo them,” said Arthur McCray, a Northwestern University graduate student working in Argonne’s Materials Science Division (MSD). And any bar magnets malfunctioning due to some disruption will affect the others.