IBM said on March 30 that it has learned how to better control magnetic fields at the atomic level, a technique that it could use in the future to help design next-generation storage elements.
In Science Express, Science magazines online journal for time-sensitive papers, IBM researchers will detail how they aligned chains of up to 10 manganese atoms atop a thin insulator, measuring how the total magnetic properties changed as each atom was added.
"We have developed a window into the atomic heart of magnetism," said Andreas Heinrich, research staff member at IBMs Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., in a statement. "We can now position atoms and then measure and control their magnetic interactions within precisely designed structures."
Magnetism derives from a property called "spin", which affects electrons and atoms. Although a spin can be either "up" or "down," the aggregate spin determines how magnetic a material is. While most materials contain atoms whose "up" and "down" proportions are almost exactly the same, materials like iron usually favor one spin or the other, and are considered to be magnetically charged.