Nano-sized magnets could help create electronics with storage capacity beyond anything that’s currently feasible.

Data storage in devices like hard disk drives work by manipulating properties of individual magnetic sections, but storage space is limited by the properties of the magnetic sections. Yet, researchers at the Imperial College London have found making a honeycomb pattern of nano-sized magnets “introduces competition between neighboring magnets, and reduces the problems caused by these interactions by two-thirds,” states a press release.

This creates a type of computation known as a neural network—close to how our brains work than how current computers work.

“The strong interaction between neighboring magnets allows us to subtly affect how the patterns form across the honeycomb. This is something we can take advantage of to compute complex problems because many different outcomes are possible, and we can differentiate between them electronically. Our next big challenge is to make an array of nano-magnets that can be ‘programmed’ without using external magnetic fields,” research author Dr. Will Branford said in a press release. Branford is an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow in the Department of Physics at Imperial College London.

The findings were published in the journal Science. They say the honeycomb magnets can be used for computer data storage. They’re still researching this, however, noting they’ve been able to read and write patterns in the magnetic fields, but still need to find a way to use the patterns to perform calculations—and at regular temperatures (current tests are being done below minus 223oC).

At temperature that low, the magnets work in-sync and form patterns. “This changes their resistance to an electrical current so that if one is passed through the material, this produces a characteristic measurement that the scientists can identify,” states the release.

As things stand, researchers say devices using this technology could be available in 10 to 15 years.

“Electronics manufacturers are trying all the time to squeeze more data into the same devices, or the same data into a tinier space for handheld devices like smart phones and mobile computers. However, the innate interaction between magnets has so far limited what they can do,” Branford said.

“In some new types of memory, manufacturers try to avoid the limitations of magnetism by avoiding using magnets altogether, using things like ferroelectric (flash) memory, memristors or antiferromagnets instead. However, these solutions are slow, expensive or hard to read out. Our philosophy is to harness the magnetic interactions, making them work in our favor,” he said.

[box_light]Main image By Agadez, via Wikimedia Commons. Secondary image courtesy of Will Branford, Imperial College London[/box_light]

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Joshua Philipp is the founder and editor of He's also an award-winning journalist at Epoch Times.

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