Engineering the properties of molecular magnets – Trinity physicists in major breakthrough
28 Feb 2017
Ground-breaking research led by Prof Stefano Sanvito, Director of the CRANN Institute at Trinity College Dublin and Investigator in the Science Foundation Ireland funded centre AMBER, has demonstrated how molecular magnets could be used successfully in applications such as hard-disk drives and quantum computers. The breakthrough could increase a computer hard-disk’s capacity by 1000 using tiny molecules. How this might work has stymied international researchers for over thirty years, due to the challenge of molecular magnets operating at room temperature. This discovery could one day revolutionise computation as we know it, enabling lengthy and complex calculations, such as database searches, to be performed at incredibly high speeds.
In a paper published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, the AMBER team comprising Prof Sanvito and Dr Alessandro Lunghi working with Prof Roberta Sessoli and her team at the University of Firenze, Italy, have discovered that by engineering the molecules to be as rigid as possible, they can operate at room temperature, thus opening up new ways for designing high-performance molecular magnets.
Molecular magnets are tiny molecules, often comprising only a handful of atoms, which display the same properties of conventional magnets, such as iron. If molecular magnets were to be used as bits in hard-disk drives, there is the potential to increase the disk’s capacity up to a thousand times, so that standard 3.5’ hard-disk would store more than 1,000,000 gigabytes of data. This is because molecular magnets can be packed together at ultra-high density. Furthermore, other possible applications for magnetic magnets operating at high temperature are in quantum technologies such as quantum computation.
At present a hypothetical hard-disk made of magnetic molecules will lose all data unless cooled down to about -200 C. Over the years researchers have been working very hard to design these molecules to operate at room temperature, mostly focussing their attention on magnetic properties.
Prof Stefano Sanvito, Director of CRANN and Investigator at AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics said, “This is a very exciting breakthrough and something that is of huge interest to the scientific community, who have demonstrated very slow progress to date with the development of molecular magnets that can operate at room temperature. When a magnet is small its magnetic properties degrade rapidly with temperature. In this paper, we have shown that a drastic improvement in the high-temperature properties of magnetic magnets can be achieved by engineering the molecules to be as rigid as possible.”
This discovery will allow progress in the design of high-performance molecular magnets, a task already on-going in Prof Sessoli’s lab, and offers real potential for a quantum technologies, such as quantum computers. These may one day revolutionise computation as we know it, enabling lengthy and complex calculations, such as database searches, to be performed at incredibly high speeds.