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Main attraction: Scientists create the world's thinnest magnet that is just one ATOM thick...


The world's thinnest magnet — which is just one atom thick — has been created by scientists and could lead to huge advances in computing and quantum physics.

This design is the brainchild of experts from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the neighbouring University of California, Berkeley.

Made using a technique that the team say will be easily scalable, it features a single atomic layer of zinc oxide, dotted within which are the occasional cobalt atoms.

It uses a different underlying mechanism to other attempts to make 2D magnets, with the free electrons in the zinc oxide preserving the magnetism of the cobalt. 

The thickness of the magnet is around a millionth of that of a sheet of paper — and it is also flexible and able to operate at ambient temperatures, unlike many of its peers.

Given this, the design could find application in so-called spintronic data storage, in which information is encoded using an electron's spin, rather than charge.

The study was conducted by material scientist Jie Yao of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and colleagues. 

'We're the first to make a room-temperature 2D magnet that is chemically stable under ambient conditions,' said Professor Yao.

His colleague Rui Chen added that the discovery was also exciting because it 'uncovers a new mechanism to realize 2D magnetic materials.'

Memory devices today often make use of relatively thin magnetic films — but, when considered on the atomic scale, these are still three-dimensional, with thicknesses in the order of hundreds to thousands of atoms.

Thinner and smaller magnets that approach two-dimensionality are appealing to researchers, as they have the potential to store data at much higher densities — meaning less space would be needed to hold a given volume of information.