Electrical control of single atom magnets

9 December 2013

Electrical control of single atom magnets. Picture: Alfaro Cuevas ( CC-BY-ND
When directly on a metal surface, the magnetism (black arrows) of a single cobalt atom (orange circles) is screened by strong interactions with the surrounding metallic sea (blue). By moving these atoms towards the centre of an island of thin insulator material (white), we can gradually decrease that strength of that interaction, which results in a remarkable enhancement of the magnetic anisotropy.
Image credit: Alfaro Cuevas (, CC-BY-ND

The energy needed to change the magnetic orientation of a single atom – which determines its magnetic stability and therefore its usefulness in a variety of future device applications – can be modified by varying the atom’s electrical coupling to nearby metals.

This striking result was published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology by an international group of scientists working at the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) at UCL, the Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (Portugal), the University of Zaragoza (Spain), and the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics (Germany).

Picture credit: Alfaro Cuevas ( CC-BY-ND