Findings could lead to new ways of harnessing magnetism for computer components
Some three-dimensional materials can exhibit exotic properties that only exist in “lower” dimensions. For example, in one-dimensional chains of atoms that emerge within a bulk sample, electrons can separate into three distinct entities, each carrying information about just one aspect of the electron’s identity—spin, charge, or orbit. The spinon, the entity that carries information about electron spin, has been known to control magnetism in certain insulating materials whose electron spins can point in any direction and easily flip direction. Now, a new study just published in Science reveals that spinons are also present in a metallic material in which the orbital movement of electrons around the atomic nucleus is the driving force behind the material’s strong magnetism.
“In this bulk metallic compound, we unexpectedly found one-dimensional magnetic excitations that are typical of insulating materials whose main source of magnetism is the spin of its electrons,” said physicist Igor Zaliznyak, who led the research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory. “Our new understanding of how spinons contribute to the magnetism of an orbital-dominated system could potentially lead to the development of technologies that make use of orbital magnetism—for example, quantum computing components such as magnetic data processing and storage devices.”