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Atomic-scale magnetic patterns resembling a hedgehog's spikes could result in hard disks with massively larger capacities than today's devices, a new study suggests. The finding could help data centers keep up with the exponentially increasing demand for video and cloud data storage.

In a study published today in the journal Science, researchers at The Ohio State University used a magnetic microscope to visualize the patterns, formed in thin films of an unusual magnetic material, manganese germanide. Unlike familiar magnets such as iron, the magnetism in this material follows helices, similar to the structure of DNA. This leads to a new zoo of magnetic patterns with names such as hedgehogs, anti-hedgehogs, skyrmions and merons that can be much smaller than today's magnetic bits.

"These new magnetic patterns could be used for next-generation data ," said Jay Gupta, senior author of the study and a professor of physics at Ohio State. "The density of storage in hard disks is approaching its limits, related to how small you can make the magnetic bits that allow for that storage. And that's motivated us to look for new materials, where we might be able to make the magnetic bits much smaller."

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