Chemists at Edinburgh University and the University of Florence, Italy, have joined forces to study the magnetic properties of tiny fragments of metallic oxides with the aim of substantially increasing the amount of digital information that can stored on floppy disc and magnetic tape.
The Edinburgh group, led by Richard Winpenny, is making tiny particles containing just 24 atoms or ions of elements like cobalt, nickel, chromium and iron and studying their magnetic behaviour in conjunction with researchers in Florence. Dr Winpenny said that in the information field there was a growing desire for smaller and smaller magnetic particles which would allow information to be stored more densely. Researchers are "excited" by the finding that a molecule containing 24 cobalt atoms or ions appears to show behaviour similar to a magnet. As in a conventional magnet, the structure can be "magnetised" by applying a magnetic field, and retains this magnetisation when the field is switched off. "In essence, this is a single-molecule magnet," said Dr Winpenny.