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New Materials for Computer Science

The decisive criterion for the functioning of modern technologies and applications, for example in the field of energy supply or computer science, is the materials used in these technologies. Some applications only become possible by means of tailor-made materials displaying special properties.

Jülich scientists investigate elements and material components on an atomic level in order to optimize existing technologies and lay the foundation for new ones. The aim is to understand the behaviour of materials on the nanoscale and to exploit their properties for specific applications by means of selective design. Basic research at Jülich makes use of various methods and instruments to penetrate into the innermost structures of matter and to explore the mechanisms at work there.

Research with Neutrons for Storage Media

Neutron research exploits the behaviour of neutrons in interaction with the material samples to be investigated. Neutrons are the electrically neutral building blocks of atomic nuclei. They are generated by nuclear fission or by spallation, which involves bombarding a heavy metal with protons fired from a particle accelerator. The neutrons released in this way are guided onto the samples to be studied in special instruments. These neutron beams "bounce" off the atoms and molecules of the samples and in doing so they may change their direction and speed. The nature and pattern of this "scattering" provides information on the arrangement and motion of the atoms in the sample.

Another property of neutrons can also be utilized for research, especially in the IT field. Neutrons are namely small elementary magnets. Like a tiny compass, they react to the magnetic fields of individual atoms in samples. This reaction can be measured at a spectrometer for diffuse neutron scattering (DNS).

In this way, scientists can, for example, investigate the magnetic structures of molecular magnets. This could be applied in future in quantum computers and for data storage. However, in order to utilize them for such applications it is important to understand their magnetic order and dynamics on the atomic level. On this basis, new storage media with lower energy consumption and new functionalities can be developed.

Electron Microscopy for New IT Materials

Microscopy has been an indispensable scientific tool ever since the 17th century. Electron microscopy makes it possible to overcome the limitations of light microscopy and explore ever smaller dimensions. The best electron microscopes of our time at the Ernst Ruska-Centre (ER-C) provide scientists with unique access to the atomic structure of matter. In order to design materials with new properties and to develop nanoelectronic components, it is essential to understand the motion and interaction of atoms.

Jülich researchers are working on new methods of representing magnetic fields with a continuously improving resolution of a few nanometres and of analysing electrically polarized regions on the atomic level. Findings on the effects thus detected are important for developing novel electronic components. These components are intended to outperform the properties of present data storage media in a number of ways: they should be smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient, and the stored information should be retained even without any electric current. Another goal is that future components may enable the functions of the processor and information storage medium to be combined so that data will no longer need to be transported backwards and forwards between the various building blocks, which will reduce time and effort.

Further information

more about neutron research
Jülich Centre for Neutron Science (JCNS)
more about electron microscopy
Ernst Ruska Centre for Microscopy and Spectroscopy with Electrons (er-c)
Peter Grünberg Institute - Microstructure Research (PGI-5)