Major Breakthrough for Efficient and High-Speed Spintronic Data Storage Devices

Ultrafast magnetic scattering at ferrimagnets, made possible by a bright Yb-based soft X-ray source that formed the cover of Optica. Credit: Ella Maru Studio

INRS researchers and international partners have succeeded for the first time in studying the spin inside rare-earth materials using an ultra-fast tabletop soft X-ray microscope.

Complex networks of systems are required for the exchange of real-time information. Switching the magnetization, or electron spin, of magnetic materials with ultrashort femtosecond laser pulses is a promising strategy to speed up data storage devices. However, how spin evolves in the nanoworld on extremely short time scales, such as one millionth of a billionth of a second, has remained largely a mystery. In collaboration with TU Vienna, Austria, the French national synchrotron facility (SOLEIL) and other international partners, Professor François Légaré’s team at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) has made a major breakthrough in this field. On April 6, 2022, their study was published in the journal optics.

Until now, studies on this topic have relied heavily on large, limited-access X-ray facilities such as free-electron lasers and synchrotrons. The team demonstrates for the first time an ultra-fast tabletop microscope using soft X-rays for spatiotemporal resolution of spin dynamics in rare-earth materials promising for spintronic devices.

This new source of soft X-rays, based on a high-energy ytterbium laser, represents a significant advance in the exploration of future energy-efficient and fast spintronic devices and could be used for many applications in physics, biology and chemistry.

“Our approach offers a robust, cost-effective and energy-scalable elegant solution for many laboratories. It enables the investigation of the ultra-fast dynamics in nanoscale and mesoscale structures with spatial and temporal resolutions in the nanometer and femtosecond range as well as with element specificity,” says Professor Andrius Baltuska from the Vienna University of Technology.

Bright X-ray pulses to observe rotation

This bright source of X-ray photons was used to capture a series of nanoscale snapshots of the magnetic structures of the rare earths. They reveal the rapid degaussing process and the results provide rich information on the magnetic properties, as accurate as that obtained with large X-ray facilities.

“The development of ultra-fast tabletop X-ray sources is exciting for cutting-edge technological applications and advanced science fields. We are excited about our results, which could be helpful for future research in spintronics as well as other potential areas,” says INRS postdoc Dr. Guangyu fan.

“Rare earth systems are trending in the community because of their nanometer-scale size, increased speed, and topologically protected stability. The X-ray source is very attractive for many studies of future rare earth spintronic devices,” says Nicolas Jaouen, principal scientist at the French National Synchrotron Facility.

Professor Légaré highlights the collaboration between experts in the development of cutting-edge light sources and ultra-fast dynamics in nanoscale magnetic materials. “Considering the rapid advent of high-power ytterbium laser technology, this work represents tremendous potential for high-power soft X-ray sources. This new generation of lasers, soon to be available at the Advanced Laser Light Source (ALLS), will have many future applications in physics, chemistry and even biology,” he says.

Reference: “Ultrafast magnetic scattering on ferrimagnets enabled by a bright Yb-based soft x-ray source” by G. Fan, K. Légaré, V. Cardin, X. Xie, R. Safaei, E. Kaksis, G. Andriukaitis, Pugžlys A, Schmidt BE, Wolf JP, Hehn M, Malinowski G, Vodungbo B, Jal E, Lüning J, Jaouen N, Giovannetti G, Calegari F, Tao Z, Baltuška A. F. Légaré and T. Balčiūnas, April 6, 2022, optics.
DOI: 10.1364/OPTICA.443440

The study received financial support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies (FRQNT) and PRIMA Québec, among others. The ALLS lab also benefits from an investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

About INRS

INRS is a university dedicated solely to graduate-level research and education. Since its inception in 1969, the INRS has played an active role in Quebec’s economic, social and cultural development and ranks first in Quebec in terms of research intensity. The INRS consists of four interdisciplinary research and training centers in Québec City, Montréal, Laval and Varennes with expertise in strategic sectors: Eau Terre Environnement, Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications, Urbanization Culture Société and Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnology. The INRS community includes more than 1,500 students, postdocs, faculty members and staff.

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