Researchers aim to revolutionize magnetic data storage

Zurich – The magnetic technology currently used in data storage is considered too slow for use in the working memories of computers. A process developed at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the Paul Scherrer Institute could now be set to bring about change.


Magnetic tapes and hard disks have been used for data storage in computers for almost seventy years because they are the best way of archiving information due to their longevity and low price.

However, the existing technology is too slow and has a relatively high energy consumption when used as a means of realizing random access memories (RAMs) in a computer. This could be set to change, announced the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) in a statement.

Working with colleagues from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Viligen, researchers from the ETH’s Departments of Materials and Physics have developed a process to make magnetic data storage very fast and energy efficient.  

It does not require the coils used for traditional magnetization inversion. In their experiment, the researchers inverted the magnetization of a cobalt dot with a diameter of just 500 nanometres using electric current pulses that flowed through an adjacent platinum wire. At the same time, the cobalt dot was successively scanned at the Swiss Light Source at the PSI.

“In this way we obtained a two-dimensional image of the magnetization inside the cobalt dot and could watch as the current pulse gradually changed it,” explained Manuel Baumgartner, lead author of the study and doctoral student in the ETH’s Department of Materials research group.

The magnetization inversion happened significantly faster than in other recently studied techniques and caused no reduction in its quality at a frequency of 20 MHz. For the researchers, this means that the technology should be suitable for applications in the working memory of computers. 

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