Researchers from the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Princeton University have worked together to discover a new layered ferromagnetic semiconductor. They believe this type of material, which is very rare, has the potential to be useful in next-generation electronic technologies.
Semiconductors operate as neither a metal nor an insulator, but as a material that scientists can customize and alter based on the conducting properties they require. Semiconductors that are closer to an insulator, as opposed to metal are the rarest of all, which makes this discovery even more significant.
Generally, ferromagnetism in semiconducting materials has been almost entirely found in chromium-based compounds. The new ferromagnetism was discovered in a vanadium-iodine semiconductor. Scientists discovered this by using magneto-optical visualization of the magnetic domains, which is the best way to confirm the existence of ferromagnetism in a material.
“Being able to exfoliate these materials down into 2D layers gives us new opportunities to find unusual properties that are potentially useful to electronic technology advances. It’s sort of like getting a new shape of Lego bricks. The more unique pieces you have, the cooler the stuff you can build.”
Ferromagnetism provides some advantages to traditional semiconductors, most noticeably that its electronic properties are spin-dependent. This means that the electrons align their spins along the internal magnetization of the material. The fact that they are spin dependent helps scientists by providing them with an additional way to manipulate the currents that flow through the semiconductor.
This is accomplished by scientists controlling the magnetization of the semiconductor. They do this by changing the magnetic field, although more complicated means can be applied if necessary. Additionally, scientists can control the amount of current that is carried through the semiconductor by doping the material.
Scientists are continuing their research on other materials that may have ferromagnetic properties. They are also looking into the ways that this newly found material could be utilized, particularly in next-generation electronic technologies. Additionally, they will continue to experiment with different ways to control the magnetization of the semiconductors, and how they can alter the charge to suit their specific needs.