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MIT magnetic discovery could turn computer storage on its head

Researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have discovered a magnetic breakthrough that they say could revolutionise the computer storage industry forever.

Geoffrey Beach and a team of researchers have published a paper detailing the effect of flipping polarity in the wrong direction against the electronic flow using magnetic films. The phenomenon was considered bizarre and a fluke in the past, but with the publication of this new paper, storage technology could be transformed, the researchers say, with the potential for a seismic change in the computer storage industry.

Storage media such as hard disk drives are based entirely on arrangements of magnets. Positive and negative alignments of magnetics within a magnetic domain help to create the ones and zeros which feature in every piece of data stored on every hard drive in the world.

Beach found that, when a film of ferromagnetic material was placed onto platinum and exposed to a current, it presented the reverse magnetic pole. Switching the platinum for tantalum changed the poles back to normal. With most materials, the direction of pole changes is random and can change over an extended period of time. With thin, film-like materials like the ones used in this experiment, the pole can be changed by force, using currents and certain other materials, including platinum and tantalum.

The team at MIT say the discovery means that small amounts of power can now be applied to change the spin orientation of magnets very efficiently – and that, if it is manufactured into a viable computer storage solution, it will be around 10,000 times more energy-efficient than current hard disk drives (HDD). The thin ferromagnetic films could eventually be used to provide low-energy storage for both HDD and solid-state drives (SSDs), say the researchers.

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