New Record for Smallest Displacement Observation

Guest_Jim_* - September 6, 2011 09:28AM in Science & Technology

Materials are magnetic when the magnetic moments in its atoms are properly aligned. Ferroelectrics are similar, but instead of having magnetic poles these exhibit electric poles. Multiferroics are an odd combination of these characteristics as magnetic fields create electric poles and electric fields create magnetic poles. This strong relationship of electric and magnetic fields can potentially allow for new storage media for computers that will be faster and more efficient than current HDDs. Before those new drives can be coming off an assembly line though, we need to understand why a material is multiferroic. A team at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) devised a new technique to observe and measure the displacement of atoms within a sample. The results confirmed the characteristics arise from the distance between atoms and not the transfer of charge from one to another. Also of great interest and surprise, even to the researchers, was accuracy of the measurements; around one femtometer. The measurement itself was 20 fm, a displacement many thought would be impossible to observe. A femtometer is one million times smaller than a nanometer and one hundred-thousandth the distance between two atoms.