Optical data storage does not require expensive magnetic materials as synthetic alternatives work just as well. This is the finding of an international team from York, Berlin and Nijmegen, published Thursday February 27 in Applied Physics Letters. The team's discovery brings the much cheaper method for storing data using light a step closer. It was Professor Rasing, physicist at Radboud University Nijmegen and FOM workgroup leader, who came up with the new synthetic material.

When you store a file on your laptop or PC, the computer creates a code consisting of zeros and ones. These are actually tiny magnetic poles (spins) that can point in one of two directions: the 'zero' state or the 'one' state. Switching these spins using a magnetic field is a relatively slow, energy-intensive process. An alternative is to switch them using light, which was first achieved by Radboud researchers six years ago. They have been searching for suitable materials ever since. Theo Rasing: 'Optical switching is only possible in special magnets, called ferrimagnets. However, these magnets are made of expensive rare earth metals, which are also difficult to produce at the nano-scale. Now, we have shown for the first time that it is also possible to switch synthetic ferrimagnets optically.'

Other than with normal ferrimagnets, the production of synthetic ferrimagnets does not require the use of rare earth metals. This makes them cheaper and better for the environment, and therefore more suitable for use in computers. Rasing: 'I really believe that this is the start of a fundamentally new form of data storage, and possibly data processing too.'

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