Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the University of Cambridge in the UK have demonstrated that it is possible to directly generate an electric current in a magnetic material by rotating its magnetization.
The findings reveal a novel link between magnetism and electricity, and may have applications in electronics.
The electric current generation demonstrated by the researchers is called charge pumping. Charge pumping provides a source of very high frequency alternating electric currents, and its magnitude and external magnetic field dependency can be used to detect magnetic information.
The findings may, therefore, offer new and exciting ways of transferring and manipulating data in electronic devices based on spintronics, a technology that uses electron spin as the foundation for information storage and manipulation.
The research findings are published as an Advance Online Publication (AOP) on Nature Nanotechnology's website on 10 November 2014.
Spintronics has already been exploited in magnetic mass data storage since the discovery of the giant magnetoresistance (GMR) effect in 1988. For their contribution to physics, the discoverers of GMR were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2007.
The basis of spintronics is the storage of information in the magnetic configuration of ferromagnets and the read-out via spin-dependent transport mechanisms.
"Much of the progress in spintronics has resulted from exploiting the coupling between the electron spin and its orbital motion, but our understanding of these interactions is still immature. We need to know more so that we can fully explore and exploit these forces," says Arne Brataas, professor at NTNU and the corresponding author for the paper.
An electron has a spin, a seemingly internal rotation, in addition to an electric charge. The spin can be up or down, representing clockwise and counterclockwise rotations.
Pure spin currents are charge currents in opposite directions for the two spin components in the material.
It has been known for some time that rotating the magnetization in a magnetic material can generate pure spin currents in adjacent conductors.
However, pure spin currents cannot be conventionally detected by a voltmeter because of the cancellation of the associated charge flow in the same direction.
A secondary spin-charge conversion element is then necessary, such as another ferromagnet or a strong spin-orbit interaction, which causes a spin Hall effect.
Brataas and his collaborators have demonstrated that in a small class of ferromagnetic materials, the spin-charge conversion occurs in the materials themselves.
The spin currents created in the materials are thus directly converted to charge currents via the spin-orbit interaction.
In other words, the ferromagnets function intrinsically as generators of alternating currents driven by the rotating magnetization.
"The phenomenon is a result of a direct link between electricity and magnetism. It allows for the possibility of new nano-scale detection techniques of magnetic information and for the generation of very high-frequency alternating currents," Brataas says.
The generation and modulation of high-frequency currents are central wireless communication devices such as mobile phones, WLAN modules for personal computers, Bluetooth devices and future vehicle radars.
The research team also included scientists from the University of Copenhagen; the Institute of Physics ACSR, Czech Republic; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the Japan Science and Technology Agency.