However, several obstacles still need to be overcome before single-molecule magnet data storage becomes a reality. Finding molecules that can store the magnetic information permanently and not just fleetingly is a challenge, and it is even more difficult to arrange these molecules on a solid surface to build data storage carriers. To address the latter problem, an international team of researchers led by chemists from ETH Zurich has now developed a new method that offers numerous advantages over other approaches.
Christophe Copéret, a professor at the Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry at ETH Zurich, and his team developed a molecule with a dysprosium atom at its centre - dysprosium is a metal belonging to the rare-earth elements. This atom is surrounded by a molecular scaffold that serves as a vehicle. The scientists also developed a method for depositing such molecules on the surface of silica nanoparticles and fusing them by annealing at 400 degrees Celsius. The molecular structure used as a vehicle disintegrates in the process, yielding nanoparticles with dysprosium atoms well-dispersed at their surface. The scientists showed that these atoms can be magnetised and maintain their magnetic information.
The magnetisation process currently only works at around minus 270 degrees Celsius - near absolute zero, and the magnetisation can be maintained for up to one and a half minute. The scientists are therefore looking for methods that will allow the magnetisation to be stabilised at higher temperatures and for longer periods of time. They are also looking for ways to fuse atoms to a flat surface instead of to nanoparticles.
One of the advantages of the new method is its simplicity. "Nanoparticles bonded with dysprosium can be made in any chemical laboratory. No cleanroom and complex equipment are required", stated Florian Allouche, a doctoral student in Christophe Copéret's group. In addition, the magnetisable nanoparticles can be stored at room temperature and re-utilized.
Other preparation methods include the direct deposition of individual atoms onto a surface, yet the materials obtained are only stable at very low temperatures mainly due to the agglomeration of these individual atoms. Alternatively, molecules with ideal magnetic properties can be deposited onto a surface, but this immobilization often negatively affects the structure and the magnetic properties of the final object.
For this research project, ETH scientists worked with colleagues from the Universities of Lyon and Rennes, Collège de France in Paris, Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, and Berkeley National Laboratory in the USA.
Allouche F. et al. are the authors of " Magnetic Memory from Site Isolated Dy(III) on Silica Materials " published inACS Central Science 2017.