UC Berkeley scientists developed an ultrathin magnet only one atom thick

Scientists from the Department of Energy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley have developed a new ultrathin magnet recently detailed in the journal Nature Communications. The ultrathin magnet operates at room temperature, and researchers believe it could lead to applications for computing and electronics. Their new magnet opens the door to high-density, compact spintronic memory devices and potentially to new tools for studying quantum physics.

Researchers believe the ultrathin magnet could lead to big advances in next-generation memory devices, computing, spintronics, and quantum physics. Senior study author Jie Yao says the team was the first to make a room-temperature 2D magnet that is chemically stable under ambient conditions. The discovery is significant because it made 2D magnetism possible at room temperature and uncovered a new mechanism to create 2D magnetic materials.

Magnets for current-generation memory devices are typically made of magnetic thin films. However, those materials are still three-dimensional at the atomic level, measuring hundreds or thousands of atoms thick. Researchers have searched for ways to make thinner and smaller 2D magnets to enable data to be stored at higher density. Current state-of-the-art 2D magnets require very low temperatures to function, which is a challenge for computing because data centers need to operate at room temperature.

The new 2D magnet operates at room temperature or higher and is the first magnet to reach a true 2D limit being as thin as a single atom. Researchers also say the new magnet opens every single atom for examination, which could, in particular, reveal how quantum physics governs each magnetic atom and the interactions between them. The 2D magnet is called a cobalt-doped van der Waals zinc-oxide magnet, created from a solution of graphene oxide, zinc, and cobalt.

The material was baked in a conventional lab oven to transform the mixture into a single atomic layer of zinc oxide mixed with some cobalt atoms sandwiched between graphene layers. The graphene was then burned away, leaving just the single atomic layer of cobalt-doped zinc-oxide.