Electromagnetic devices all require an electric current to create the magnetic fields that allow them to function. But as devices become smaller, being able to efficiently deliver a current to create magnetic fields becomes more difficult. Researchers at UCLA say that they have developed a method to switch tiny magnetic fields on and off with an electric field, instead of the traditional approach of running a current through a wire, which they say could lead to big changes in storing digital information and powering motors in small hand-held devices.

The researchers, affiliated with the university's National Science Foundation–funded Translational Applications of Nanoscale Multiferroic Systems, developed a composite that can control magneto-electric activity at a scale of about 10 nanometers, some 1,000 times smaller than a red blood cell. Previously, the instability of magnetic particles at this scale made it impossible to control their movement, much less the energy reaching them.

The team used a composite of nickel nanocrystals coupled with a single crystal of piezoelectric material, which can generate power when a small amount of force is applied to it, to control the north–south orientation of the particles as well as their tendency to spin around, which are essential aspects of activating or deactivating a magnetic field.

With further research, these findings could change the way electromagnetic devices are designed in the future, the team said, by allowing significant miniaturization of equipment ranging from memory devices and antennas to instruments used to analyze blood.


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