Physicists at RIKEN, a Japanese scientific research institute, recently found a way to show how extremely small amounts of heat can be manipulated to control magnetic whirlpools, otherwise known as skyrmions. This could be a stepping stone to creating more energy-efficient forms of computing. 

Skyrmions, which are information-carriers, develop when the magnetic flux of atoms move into specific patterns inside a material. Under some conditions, they organize into what’s called a skyrmion lattice

What We Knew vs. What We Know

Before this exciting observation by RIKEN, researchers had some understanding of how to control skyrmions with electrical currents and magnetic fields. Now, the difference is that they’re using heat flow, which takes significantly less power to move.

 

How Did They Do it?

To make this happen, the research team created a device that consisted of a plate of electrically insulating magnetic material, a small heating element, and two electric thermometers. Next, they generated skyrmions in the plate by cooling it to about -235 degrees Celsius and applying a magnetic field. At this point, the skyrmions form a sort of honeycomb shape, a hexagonal lattice. 

 

They increased the temperature on one end of the plate, all the while using a special microscope that allowed them to observe the effect. A temperature gradient of a 100th of a degree per millimeter of the plate pushed the skyrmions into action. The edge of the honeycomb lattice shifted toward the warmer end of the plate, meaning that it traveled in the opposite direction of heat flow.

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