Graphene can be made magnetic, scientists find

9 January 2012
By Sofia Mitra-Thakur
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Researchers use electron-beam lithography to microfabricate graphene devices

Researchers use electron-beam lithography to microfabricate graphene devices

Scientists have shown that graphene can be made magnetic which could have important applications in electronics.

In a report published in Nature Physics, University of Manchester researchers demonstrated that graphene, the world’s thinnest and strongest material, can be given magnetic properties.

The researchers, led by Dr Irina Grigorieva and Professor Sir Andre Geim, took nonmagnetic graphene and then either ‘peppered’ it with other nonmagnetic atoms like fluorine or removed some carbon atoms from the chicken wire.

The empty spaces, called vacancies, and added atoms all turned out to be magnetic, exactly like atoms of, for example, iron.

“It is like minus multiplied by minus gives you plus,” said Dr Irina Grigorieva, adding that the research could prove important for potential applications of graphene in electronics.

Graphene is a sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a chicken wire structure.

In its pristine state, it exhibits no signs of the conventional magnetism usually associated with such materials as iron or nickel.

Demonstrating its remarkable properties won Manchester researchers the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

The researchers found that, to behave as magnetic atoms, defects must be far away from each other and their concentration should be low.

If many defects are added to graphene, they reside too close and cancel each other’s magnetism.

In the case of vacancies, their high concentration makes graphene disintegrate.

“The observed magnetism is tiny, and even the most magnetized graphene samples would not stick to your fridge,” said Professor Geim, one of the Nobel prize recipients, adding that the area of magnetism in nonmagnetic materials has previously had many false positives.

“The most likely use of the found phenomenon is in spintronics. Spintronics devices are pervasive, most notably they can be found in computers’ hard disks.

“They function due to coupling of magnetism and electric current.”

Further information:

See E&T's interview with Andre Geim

See E&T's interview with Konstantin Novoselov

See E&T's feature on graphene devices speeding comms

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