Nanomagnets could revolutionize data storage

Scientists have demonstrated that it’s possible to store information in individual molecules, potentially paving the way for storage devices that could be thousands of times smaller than today.

The Kiel University team has succeeded in selectively switching on and off the magnetism of individual molecules – so-called spin-crossover complexes – using electrons.

It’s long been possible to image individual molecules on surfaces with scanning tunnelling microscopes, but controlling their characteristics has proved rather more problematic.

“In principle, information may be stored in a single molecule. However, techniques that would make such an approach feasible are becoming available just now,” says project leader Professor Richard Berndt.

The study is focused on the magnetism of molecules. Using a scanning tunnelling microscope, the scientists were able to switch individual molecules between two magnetic states. Despite the fact that the molecules are so densely packed, the team was able to target individual molecules for switching.

The molecules were synthesised at the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry at Kiel University.

“Even though it took us a long time to find adequate molecules, we are very pleased with the outcome,” says professor Felix Tuczek.

The next step will be to adapt the molecules in such a way that the scientists will be able to switch them with light instead of electrons, and at higher temperatures.