UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab develop 1-atom-thin 2-dimensional magnet

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Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
UC Berkeley professor Jie Yao and his team developed a one-atom-thin two-dimensional magnet that reached the "fundamental limit" proposed by physicists years ago.

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Reaching the “fundamental limit” proposed by physicists years ago, UC Berkeley associate professor in materials science and engineering Jie Yao and his team created a thinner two-dimensional magnet.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, or Berkeley Lab, released a study published June 25 on the creation of the “one-atom-thin two-dimensional” magnet. The magnet, which operates at room temperature, will allow for a more efficient data encoding process, impacting the field of memory devices, computing, spintronics and quantum physics, according to the study.

When discussing the findings of Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley’s research, Yao mentioned the importance of the magnet’s thinness. According to Yao, the thickness of the magnet was its “practical limit.”

“First of all, we have already achieved the magnetism and magnetic sheet at the two-dimensional limit which is a single atom for, you know, practical material,” Yao said. “There’s no way we can get a material thinner than a single atom thickness because the material has to be composed of fundamental atoms.”

With the help of Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry and Advanced Light Source, the scientists were able to discover the magnet’s properties. By conducting electron experiments at the Molecular Foundry and X-ray experiments at the Advanced Light Source, the researchers were able to confirm the thickness and character of the magnet, the study noted.

Yao explained that the team, through working in the lab, recognized that the material system used to create the magnet has the potential to operate at higher temperatures. According to Yao, the researchers used zinc oxide, a semiconductor, to develop the magnet.

Zinc oxide is a nonmagnetic material with free electrons; this aids the two-dimensional device with its magnetism, the study notes. Yao added that the system, utilizing zinc oxide and carbon atoms, has many benefits.

“It does not react with the oxygen atom or the oxygen molecule in the air,” Yao said. “So, even if we heat it up in air, it does not react. So it can keep its copy and be exposed to reactive molecules with no problem. So with that, we first discovered the atomically thin sheet of magnet.”

Beyond the scientific qualities of the magnet, Yao described the tremendous effects that the magnet will have on data storage. By minimizing the thickness of the magnet and its magnetic field, Yao said the material can be used to make data storage more efficient and compact.

But the team’s research does not stop there, according to Yao. After building the extremely thin two-dimensional magnet, the team has plans regarding the “atomic limit.”

“We’re expecting to have more and more powerful devices with these advanced magnetic materials,” Yao said. “By combining this material with other material systems we will also be able to have other discoveries. These are just some simple examples of our future plan.”

Contact Nadia Farjami at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @Nadiafarjami.