June 17, 2009

Scientists discover magnetic ‘superatom’

U.S. scientists have discovered a magnetic superatom that might one day be used to create molecular electronic devices for future computers.

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers said the superatom consists of a stable cluster of atoms that can mimic different elements of the periodic table. The cluster, consisting of one vanadium and eight cesium atoms, acts as a tiny magnet that can mimic a single manganese atom in magnetic strength, while preferentially allowing electrons of specific spin orientation to flow through the surrounding shell of cesium atoms, the researchers said.

Professor Shiv Khanna led a team that included researchers from the Harish-Chandra Research Institute in Allahabad, India, in examining the electronic and magnetic properties of clusters.

An important objective of the discovery was to find what combination of atoms will lead to a species that is stable as we put multiple units together, Khanna said.

The combination of magnetic and conducting attributes was also desirable. Cesium is a good conductor of electricity and hence the superatom combines the benefit of magnetic character along with ease of conduction through its outer skin, he said. A combination such as the one we have created here can lead to significant developments in the area of 'molecular electronics,' a field where researchers study electric currents through small molecules.

The complex findings appear online in the journal Nature Chemistry.