Washington, April 17 : Two researchers from Dartmouth, US, have discovered that the element chromium displays electrical properties of magnets, a finding which might someday contribute to new and more energy efficient ways of processing and storing data. "The phenomena that we have discovered are likely to lead to new applications of chromium," said Yeong-Ah Soh, the lead researcher and an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth.
According to her, this indicates that a simple and well-known element, chromium, displays different electrical properties on heating and cooling.
These differences reflect subtle internal rearrangements of the electrons and their spins.
In ferromagnets, a common magnet, the spins of electrons interact with each other leading to alignment. In antiferromagnets, however, the interactions between neighboring electron spins are such that they are opposed.
Researchers have long studied the electrical properties of ferromagnets and the influence of electron spin.
According to the researchers, less attention has been paid to the influence of spin on the electrical properties in antiferromagnets, where it is more difficult to manipulate, and chromium is special since it is the only simple element that is an antiferromagnet.
"Antiferromagnets are used in numerous fields: physics, materials science, and chemistry, and they are increasingly used in technology, where they are found in the tiny heads that read the data on computer disc drives," said Soh.
"Our research opens the entire new field of controlled electrical effects at a slightly-larger-than-quantum scale in antiferromagnets," she added.
The findings show that not only ferromagnets can be used in spintronics; there is a possibility that antiferromagnets can also be employed to manipulate and store information.