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Scientists use magnetic nano-rods to investigate how matter assembles
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Scientists use magnetic nano-rods to investigate how matter assembles

In the microscopic world, everything is in motion: atoms and molecules vibrate, proteins fold, even glass is a slow flowing liquid. And during each movement there are interactions between the smallest elements – for example, the atoms – and their neighbours. To make these movements visible, scientists at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have developed a special model system. It is so big that it can be easily observed under an X-ray microscope, and mimics the tiniest movements in Nature. The model: rings made from six nanoscale magnetic rods, whose north and south poles attract each other. At room temperature, the magnetisation direction of each of these tiny rods varies spontaneously. Scientists were able to observe the magnetic interactions between these active rods in real time. These research results were published on May 5 in the journal “Nature Physics”.

Scientists at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI in Switzerland have developed a novel magnetic nano-system. This has allowed the first observation of spontaneous changes in the magnetisation direction at room temperature in such an artificial system. This system is fascinating, particularly for fundamental research, as it can be a model for many different interactions at the atomic and molecular level. Alan Farhan studied this model system as part of his doctoral thesis. Now, the results have been published in the prestigious science journal Nature Physics.

Magnetic nano-rods, arranged on the sides of a hexagon (bottom) or several hexagons (middle and top), form the ring systems studied by the scientists. Several linked rings serve as a model for a frustrated system: regardless of how the magnetisation of the central rod is oriented, energetically unfavourable conditions always arise, i.e. two north poles or two south poles will inevitably meet one another – marked in yellow.


Potential applications in theoretical physics and data storage applications

“Although our model system is relatively simple, it has allowed us to investigate heat-related fluctuations in a system in real space, and thus to delve deeper than ever before into the world of thermodynamics“, said Heyderman.
With their newly developed system, the scientists now want to obtain further insights into fundamental phenomena like phase transitions, geometrical frustration and the physics of glassy materials. Technological applications for data storage, transferring magnetic rather than electrical charge, might be also be possible.

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