Nanoporous sponge could cut data storage energy consumption

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Researchers from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB), in collaboration with the Catalan Institute for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), have developed a nanoporous material based on a copper and nickel alloy. The material, which has a structure similar to that of a sponge with nanometric pores, is said to be a potential base for new magnetic memories.

Conventional magnetic memories store data by changing the orientation of small magnetic domains. However, the currents needed to change the orientation heat the material, requiring more energy to cool them.

In 2007, French scientists observed that when a voltage is applied to ultra-thin layers of magnetic materials, the amount energy needed to switch the magnetic domains was reduced by 4%. However, this slight reduction was not significant enough to be applied to devices.

Now, a UAB team directed Jordi Sort, working with ICN2, has found a solution based on the magnetic properties of a nanoporous material. The new material comprises nanoporous copper and nickel alloy films organised such that the interior resembles the inside of a sponge, with a pore separation of 10nm.

According to Sort: “The nanopores found on the inside of nanoporous materials offer a great amount of surface. With this vast surface concentrated in a very small space, we can apply the voltage of a battery and reduce the energy needed to orientate the magnetic domains and record data enormously. This represents a new paradigm in the energy saving of computers and in computing and handling magnetic data in general.”

The first nanoporous magnetic memory prototypes have seen a reduction of 35% in magnetic coercivity, which relates to the amount of energy needed to reorientate the magnetic domains and record data.

While voltage was applied to the first prototypes using liquid electrolytes, the team is now working on solid materials. Sort noted: “Implementing this material into the memories of computers and mobile devices can offer many advantages, mainly in direct energy saving for computers and considerable increase in the autonomy of mobile devices,”