Magnets are critical to a wide variety of technologies, including electronic data storage methods and sensors. In these cases the ability to flip the directionality of the magnets and particles within the magnets, is used. Researchers at the University of Manchester however have found a way to switch magnetism on and off within a material, instead of just switching it from up to down.
The material is the atom-thin plane of carbon, graphene, which is already an object of great interest. Part of the reason it is so interesting is because of its hexagonal structure, which looks like chicken wire made of carbon atoms. What the researchers did is selectively remove carbon atoms from the structure, which allows electrons to gather at the hole, creating a magnetic cloud. These clouds it turns out can be formed and dissipated at will, thus turning on and off the magnetic field.
This capability could have great impacts on the future of spintronics, a family of technologies based on the magnetic properties of individual particles. One of the challenges for spintronics has been creating active devices, with the ability to switch like modern transistors do, but this discovery could help achieve that.
Source: University of Manchester