Recently discovered magnetic behavior may have enormous potential to power the next generation of data storage technology, according to new research reported this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. The promise of data storage based on “skyrmions,” minuscule disturbances in magnetic orientation, offers a potential path to overcome fundamental limitations in computing technology that otherwise may have heralded the end of Moore’s Law, which holds that computing power doubles in strength roughly every two years.
Skyrmions, the phenomenon on which this new data technology would be based, were only discovered in 2016 by a team led by MIT associate professor of materials science and engineering Geoffrey Beach. These magnetic particles occur between two thin metallic films from two different kinds of metal and can be wielded using electric fields, allowing long-term data storage without the need of additional energy. While the locations of these skyrmions were originally random, Beach and collaborators at MIT and in Germany have since demonstrated an ability to purposefully create and harness these magnetic particles, opening the door to new technological possibilities.
Because skyrmions are very stable in contrast to traditional magnetic storage devices, data could potentially be stored on a magnetic surface perhaps only a few atoms across. This feature is what allows the theoretical skyrmions-based storage devices overcome the physical limitations of traditional magnetic storage devices and continue the computing power expansion under Moore’s Law. The next step is to figure out an efficient way to read the data that has been written into the skyrmions. One solution is to add an additional layer of a different metal to the skyrmion sandwich and then use differences in the layer’s electrical resistance based on the presence of skyrmions to determine the encoded data. “There’s no question it would work,” said MIT postdoc and study co-author Felix Buettner, but further research and development is needed to determine how best to implement the idea.