Magnets attract Argonne scientists’ interest

By Christina Schwartz

“Magnetic snakes” created by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory may have the ability to increase data storage on a new generation of magnetic recording devices.

The project intends to explain the behavior of tiny magnetic objects, how they interact, and how they respond to magnetic shields.

Scientists float copper particles in fluid and apply an A.C. magnetic current to create waves on the surface. The frequency and magnitude of the waves shake the particles and create competition between the magnetic forces and the properties of water, causing the particles to arrange themselves automatically. As a result, a magnetic snake is born in the form of short chains of magnetic micro-particles and writhes until the current ends.

The research conducted through Argonne’s Materials Science Division by Alexey Snezhko, Igor Aranson, Maxim Belkin, and Wai-Kwong Kwok, is still in its early stages.

Argonne is beginning to look into practical applications of this technology to create more cost-effective coatings for solar panels and conductive glass that would be based on self-assembling conducting networks of magnetic micro-particles.

Despite the great potential held by self-assembling particles for electronic devices, it may be a while before “magnetic snakes” increase the storage capacity of iPods or laptops. Argonne is not currently working on developing that specific technology. “Data storage devices are more of a stretch. At the moment, we are working with micro-particles and plan to extend the study to sub-micro particles,” Kwok said.

In coming months, the ongoing project will look at particles of different shapes and sizes, more specifically expanding to include a look at how bacterial particles respond to electric stimulus.

“This is really the very first step in the field. We are currently doing basic research, so it is difficult to tell definitely where It might go,” Belkin said.