Mouse Trap for Magnetic Waves: Researchers Build Sensor Consisting of Only 11 Atoms

Microscope image, recorded using a scanning tunneling microscope, of the detector device (inside the dashed rectangle), connected to a wire consisting of nine magnetic atoms.
Credit: TU Delft

Researchers at Delft University of Technology have developed a sensor that is only 11 atoms in size. The sensor is capable of capturing magnetic waves and consists of an antenna, a readout capability, a reset button, and a memory unit. The researchers hope to use their atomic sensor to learn more about the behavior of magnetic waves, so that hopefully such waves can be used in green ICT applications one day.

In theory, we can make electronic data processing much more efficient by switching to spintronics. Instead of using electrical signals, this technology makes use of magnetic signals to transmit data. Unfortunately, magnetism tends to get incredibly complicated, especially at the tiny scale of our computer chips. You could view a magnetic wave as millions of compass needles performing a complex collective dance. Not only do the waves propagate extremely fast, causing them to vanish in mere nanoseconds, the tricky laws of quantum mechanics also allow them to travel in multiple directions at the same time. This makes them even more elusive.

Mouse trap for magnetic waves

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