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DOE funds to help researchers reveal mysteries of magnetic materials

Gregory Fuchs, associate professor of applied and engineering physics, has been awarded a three-year grant by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop his pioneering technique for observing tiny magnetic structures, and to apply the technique to explore their little-known properties.

In prior research, Fuchs developed magneto-thermal microscopy, a relatively simple method that allows researchers to image the dynamics of magnetic materials. With this funding, Fuchs and his team will apply their method to the study of magnetic skyrmions – tiny magnetic patterns with particle-like properties. Because of skyrmions’ unique stability, they could be useful for applications such as computer memory storage.

Other methods exist to study skyrmions, but magneto-thermal microscopy will allow researchers to observe them as they move in time, rather than just create a static image, potentially offering more information and insights, Fuchs said.

“Electron microscopy is a great method,” Fuchs said, “but it can’t really see the nanosecond or picosecond dynamics of magnetization, so that’s the thing we’re really most interested in and it’s where people have been unable to look.”

Using magneto-thermal microscopy, researchers can study magnetic dynamics in their own labs at a length scale that previously could be observed only in a handful of specialized laboratories around the world.

“We don’t really know all that much about the dynamics of these objects, and the dynamics are very, very important,” Fuchs said. “If we’re interested in their stability, and manipulating them for technology, we need to know what they do and what their excitations are.”

The $500,000 award is sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

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Jeff Tyson