Pyrite – Fool’s Gold – is a very common mineral. But, so far, it never was really interesting for electronics because it is not magnetic. But now scientists managed to magnetize it with electricity.
Ferromagnetism is one of the strongest forms of magnetism and the basis for all permanent magnets. It can be found in materials that have the majority of electrons with the same spins.
Chris Leighton from the University of Minnesota and his team now for the first time used electricity to transform a nonmagnetic material into a magnetic material. Their research could become the basis for creating electronic components from common materials which we nowadays do not consider to be useful for this purpose.
Only a handful of ferromagnetic materials exists naturally. The most common are iron, cobalt, and nickel and their alloys. This is somewhat limiting for experts trying to build electronic devices. But this could now change. The material that was transformed from nonmagnetic to magnetic by scientists is pyrite – more commonly known as Fool’s Gold. It is a very common mineral that can be created in many different environments.
Leighton and his colleagues use the electrolyte gating method to achieve this. First, they put the pyrite in contact with the electrolyte. Then they added a bit of electricity. Just a single volt. This made the positively charged molecules to move into the areas where the pyrite was in contact with the electrolyte. This created a measurable magnetic field. And once the electricity was shut down, the magnetism was gone as well. This could be very useful in electronic applications.
The fact that this worked was actually quite a surprise for the scientists. When they added electricity they essentially added electrons into the material. And it seems that if there is a good enough concentration of electrons in a material then such a material wants to become ferromagnetic.
The scientists say this method has great potential. If it worked with pyrite then there is a good chance it could work with other materials as well. In the past, we managed to change some nonmagnetic materials into magnetic ones by removing some of the electrons in them. But this was the first time we changed a nonmagnetic material into a magnetic one using electricity.
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