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laser-switched magnetic storage

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Laser-switched magnetic storage is a technology that uses lasers to switch the magnetic polarity of ferromagnetic nanoislands on storage media, enabling speeds up to 1000 times greater than those of  conventional hard drives.

Magnetic storage uses read and write heads (either combined or separate) to align the magnetic fields and switch the bits on the recording medium, but that process is slow and is reaching capacity in terms of potential density. Laser-switched magnetic storage could enable write speeds up to terabytes per second for both magnetic-switched hard drives and MRAM. This speed could give magnetic storage an edge even over flash solid state drive (SSD) speeds and make much greater densities possible.

Dr. Daniel Stanciu describes laser light switching of a magnetic medium in his PhD thesis, Laser-Induced Femtosecond Magnetic Recording. Stanciu based his PhD on work he did in collaboration with Dr Fredrik Hansteen, a researcher for Océ Technologies in The Netherlands. Stanicu and Hansteen discovered how to use light to reverse magnetic polarity in 2006.

Thomas Ostler authored another study conducted by an international team of scientists in 2012, again demonstrating the reversal of magnetic fields in ferromagnets by sub-picosecond laser pulses.

The United States Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory in Iowa State University's Jigang Wang lead a team of scientists to demonstrate the abilities of laser-switched magnetic storage using quantum tricks to get switching in the femtosecond range. This exceeds the switching speeds of flash SSD drives.

Significant challenges lie ahead for laser-switched magnetic storage in terms of miniaturizing read and writing devices: The writing device is currently table-sized and the changes are often confirmed by scanning electron microscopes, which take up an entire room.

This was last updated in September 2014

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