A strange form of magnetism has been discovered.  We face it every day and we don't know it

An international team of researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute in Villigen, Switzerland, and the Czech Academy of Sciences described it in the journal nature His observations regarding a new form of magnetism, which was called alternative magnetism. It was discovered experimentally using spin and angular photoemission spectroscopy. This technique only revealed the specific nature of paramagnetic materials.

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The latest reports from Switzerland represent an important breakthrough in research on magnetic materials. Currently, there are two basic groups of these materials: ferromagnetic and antimagnetic. Common refrigerator magnets are the first because they provide a microscopic view of magnetism. In the case of antimagnets, we are unable to observe a similar “attraction”.

Behavior diagram of ferromagnetism, antimagnetism and alternative magnetism / Source: Libor Schmejkal, Paul Scherrer Institutepress materials

A new form of magnetism. It has been around for centuries and we didn't even know about it

According to the study's authors, the newly discovered alternative magnets are a specific combination of both types of materials. Although we wouldn't be able to attach them to metal surfaces, their system of magnetic moments is very similar to ferromagnets. The new form of magnetism turns out to be very interesting in terms of its potential practical application. We're specifically talking about spintronics, a technology that uses the spin state of electrons to transmit information. In comparison, electronics only uses the charge of an electron.

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What materials does alternative magnetism occur in? The search for the perfect example took several years. More than two hundred compounds have been found that are considered alternative magnetic materials. These were insulators, semiconductors, metals and superconductors – we read here press release Paul Scherrer Institute.

The discovery was made in crystals of manganese telluride, a simple compound consisting of two elements. Until now, it was thought to be a typical antiferromagnet. The reason for this is the fact that the magnetic moments on neighboring manganese atoms are directed in opposite directions, generating degenerate magnetization.

Antimagnets do not show an increase in Cramer spin degeneracy, while ferromagnets and alternative magnets do. When this phenomenon was observed in manganese telluride, scientists were surely looking for a real replacement magnet.

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Thomas Jungwirth, one of the authors of the Nature article, believes that alternative magnetism is neither a revolution nor something inherently very complex. As he claims, we have been encountering materials of this kind for decades and simply did not know about them. There are many crystals with alternative magnetism, and now we will be able to work with them to extract the greatest possible application potential from them.

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