Nanodiffraction Microscopy Improves Data Storage

Phase transitions, such as those between solids, liquids, and gases, occur in many substances and can occur quickly or slowly. For example, scientists intend to use phase transitions to control various materials’ electronic, structural, or magnetic properties as they change for use in new types of computer memories. In a new study, researchers could examine a structural phase transition in minute detail on a very fast timescale for the first time. They used a technique known as nanodiffraction microscopy.

The scientists took X-ray “photographs” spaced less than one-tenth of a billionth of a second apart. A typical video might play at 30 frames per second, so this is a slow-motion video that can resolve extremely fast dynamics.

Observing the evolution of material behavior with such precision in time and space has revealed unusual behaviors in certain phase-changing materials, including many magnetic materials.

The researchers discovered a way (nanodiffraction microscopy) to watch the structure of an iron-rhodium compound change between two magnetic configurations while studying phase transitions in the compound. The change causes a very small expansion of the atomic network, but it is significant enough to affect magnetism.

Scientists can use magnetic phases to develop a new type of magnetic storage faster and more energy efficient than traditional data storage.

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