Smallest Magnetic Field Sensor in the World by combining spin electronics and molecular electronics

Scanning tunneling microscopy (50 x 50 nm2) of organic molecules. Coloring indicates variable spin orientation. (Source: CFN)

Researchers have now succeeded in combining the concepts of spin electronics and molecular electronics in a single component consisting of a single molecule. Components based on this principle have a special potential, as they allow for the production of very small and highly efficient magnetic field sensors for read heads in hard disks or for non-volatile memories in order to further increase reading speed and data density.

Nature Nanotechnology – Giant magnetoresistance through a single molecule

Magnetoresistance is a change in the resistance of a material system caused by an applied magnetic field. Giant magnetoresistance occurs in structures containing ferromagnetic contacts separated by a metallic non-magnetic spacer, and is now the basis of read heads for hard drives and for new forms of random access memory. Using an insulator (for example, a molecular thin film) rather than a metal as the spacer gives rise to tunnelling magnetoresistance, which typically produces a larger change in resistance for a given magnetic field strength, but also yields higher resistances, which are a disadvantage for real device operation. Here, we demonstrate giant magnetoresistance across a single, non-magnetic hydrogen phthalocyanine molecule contacted by the ferromagnetic tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope. We measure the magnetoresistance to be 60% and the conductance to be 0.26G0, where G0 is the quantum of conductance. Theoretical analysis identifies spin-dependent hybridization of molecular and electrode orbitals as the cause of the large magnetoresistance.

Use of organic molecules as electronic components is being investigated extensively at the moment. Miniaturization is associated with the problem of the information being encoded with the help of the charge of the electron (current on or off). However, this requires a relatively high amount of energy. In spin electronics, the information is encoded in the intrinsic rotation of the electron, the spin. The advantage is that the spin is maintained even when switching off current supply, which means that the component can store information without any energy consumption.

The German-French research team has now combined these concepts. The organic molecule H2-phthalocyanin that is also used as blue dye in ball pens exhibits a strong dependence of its resistance, if it is trapped between spin-polarized, i.e. magnetic electrodes. This effect was first observed in purely metal contacts by Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg. It is referred to as giant magnetoresistance and was acknowledged by the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2007.

The giant magnetoresistance effect on single molecules was demonstrated at KIT within the framework of a combined experimental and theoretical project of CFN and a German-French graduate school in cooperation with the IPCMS, Strasbourg. The results of the scientists are now presented in the renowned journal “Nature Nanotechnology”.

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