Anew type of magnet — called a singlet-based magnet — was discovered that differs from conventional magnets in which small magnetic constituents align with one another to create a strong magnetic field. By contrast, the singlet-based magnet has fields that pop in and out of existence, resulting in an unstable force, but one that potentially has more flexibility than conventional counterparts.

The use of magnets and magnetism to improve data storage technologies has previously been researched. Singlet-based magnets have a more sudden transition between magnetic and non-magnetic phases. The material flips between non-magnetic and strongly magnetic states, which could be beneficial for power consumption and switching speed inside a computer.

In a normal magnetic material, dense magnetic moments try to align with their neighbors (top). By contrast, in a singlet-based material, unstable magnetic moments pop in and out of existence, and stick to one another in aligned clumps (bottom). (Image courtesy of Lin Miao, NYU’s Department of Physics)

A typical magnet contains a host of tiny magnetic moments locked into alignment with other magnetic moments, all acting in unison to create a magnetic field. Exposing this assembly to heat will eliminate the magnetism; these little moments will remain, but they’ll be pointing in random directions, no longer aligned.

Electrons coming into the material interact strongly with the unstable magnetic moments, rather than simply passing through. These characteristics can eliminate performance bottlenecks and allow better control of magnetically stored information.

Using neutron scattering, X-ray scattering, and theoretical simulations, the researchers established a link between the behaviors of a far more robust magnet, USb2, and the theorized characteristics of singlet-based magnets. They found that USb2 holds the critical ingredients for this type of magnetism — particularly, a quantum mechanical property called “Hund-ness” that governs how electrons generate magnetic moments. Hundness has recently been shown to be a crucial factor for a range of quantum mechanical properties, including superconductivity.

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