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Magnetization by laser pulse
If a strong laser pulse hits an iron alloy, the material melts briefly at the irradiated point and a tiny magnetic area forms.
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Magnetization by laser pulse
by Robert Schreiber
Dresden, Germany (SPX) Dec 08, 2023

In the world of materials science, discoveries that challenge established norms often lead to groundbreaking innovations. Such is the case with a fascinating development involving laser-induced magnetization, a technique that was initially uncovered in 2018 by researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR). In a recent collaboration with the Laserinstitut Hochschule Mittweida (LHM), this method has been further explored, revealing its potential to revolutionize various industries. This article delves into the details of this discovery and its implications.

The Unexpected Discovery
In 2018, scientists at HZDR made a startling observation. They found that by subjecting a thin layer of an iron-aluminum alloy to ultrashort laser pulses, the material, which was previously non-magnetic, transformed into a magnet. This intriguing phenomenon occurred because the laser pulses triggered a rearrangement of the atoms within the crystal lattice, causing the iron atoms to move closer together. Subsequently, these atoms formed a magnet. Remarkably, the researchers could reverse this magnetization by employing a series of weaker laser pulses, allowing them to create and erase minuscule "magnetic spots" on the material's surface.

Expanding the Horizons
While the initial discovery was remarkable, it raised essential questions. Researchers were keen to determine whether this effect was exclusive to the iron-aluminum alloy or if it could be replicated in other materials. Additionally, they sought to understand the temporal dynamics of the process. To investigate further, Dr. Rantej Bali from HZDR joined forces with Dr. Theo Pflug from LHM and collaborators from the University of Zaragoza in Spain.

Their focus turned to an iron-vanadium alloy, characterized by a disordered, amorphous atomic structure unlike the regular crystal lattice of the iron-aluminum compound. Employing a special technique called the pump-probe method, they irradiated the alloy with a powerful laser pulse to magnetize it while simultaneously using a weaker pulse that was reflected on the material's surface.

The analysis of the reflected laser pulse provided insights into the material's physical properties, creating a time series of data that illuminated the processes initiated by laser excitation. Dr. Pflug likened the process to "generating a flip book," with a series of individual images revealing the sequence of events.

Surprising Results
The outcome was astonishing. Despite having a fundamentally different atomic structure from the iron-aluminum alloy, the iron-vanadium alloy exhibited laser-induced magnetization. In both cases, the material experienced brief melting at the irradiation point, causing the laser to erase the previous atomic arrangement and create a small magnetic area. This revelation suggests that the phenomenon is not confined to specific material structures but can manifest in diverse atomic configurations.

Furthermore, researchers were able to discern the temporal dynamics of the process. Within femtoseconds, the laser pulse excited the electrons in the material. A few picoseconds later, the excited electrons transferred their energy to the atomic nuclei, leading to the rearrangement into a stable magnetic structure, which was further solidified by rapid cooling. This understanding opens up possibilities for observing the exact atomic rearrangement through intense X-ray experiments in future research.

Applications on the Horizon
While these findings are still in their infancy, they offer promising avenues for practical applications. One potential application is the precise placement of tiny magnets on a chip's surface using lasers. This technology could prove invaluable in the production of sensitive magnetic sensors, such as those used in vehicles, or magnetic data storage.

Moreover, the discovery holds significance for the emerging field of spintronics, where magnetic signals replace electrons in digital computing processes. This development could potentially reshape the landscape of future computer technology.

Research Report:Laser-Induced Positional and Chemical Lattice Reordering Generating Ferromagnetism

Related Links
Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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