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Electronics at the nanoscale: 'Spin Ice' spintronics and Exotic Magnetism

New Leverhulme Trust Grant for Dr Hide Kurebayashi

Many congratulations to Dr Hide Kurebayashi (UCL EEE and LCN) who, working with Prof. Steve Bramwell (UCL Physics and Astronomy/LCN) has recently received a three year research grant worth about £0.5m from the Leverhulme Trust for a project entitled "Spin ice spintronics: surface and thin film probes of emergent electromagnetism" (RPG-2016-391).

"Spintronics" refers to the use of electron spin in nanoscale electronics. "Spin ice", discovered by Professor Bramwell, is the paradigm "exotic magnet", in which electron spin creates "magnetic monopoles" and other unusual properties. Bramwell's discovery has already had a high impact in physics - for example, magnetic monopoles in spin ice were recently rated among the top 10 physics discoveries of the last decade (Nature Physics, 01/10/15). Spin-ice research has been categorised as purely fundamental physics, mainly due to its most interesting aspects, such as monopole excitations, occurring at low temperatures.

Spintronics uses electron spin at the nanoscale to enable nanoscale magnetic sensors as well as advanced magnetic memories. Yet spintronics has not yet attempted to exploit new and exotic magnetic materials like (classical and quantum) spin ice. In these materials, electron spin and orbital motion combine to produce very unusual effects such as magnetic monopoles and "artificial photons". Our team has pioneered the physics and materials science of spin ice, recently creating the first atomic-scale thin films, as well as innovative new approaches to spintronics -- we are uniquely qualified to devlop the spintronics of spin ice.

The UCL team will investigate (for the first time) how electronic signals can be coupled to exotic magnetism - for example, to currents of magnetic monopoles. The aim is to create new spintronic effects and new ways of probing exotic magnetism. Dr Kurebayashi's contribution will focus on the device physics of spintronics. Together with junior researchers, they will tackle open questions of physics (e.g. how monopoles couple to electron-spins and photons) using recently-developed spintronic probes.

Spin ice, quantum spin ice, and their relatives represent a subject of great importance in fundamental low temperature physics, each year producing many papers in high impact journals. Similarly, the growing art of spintronics holds great promise for future nanoscale technology. The successful application of spintronics to spin ice thin films will start a new chapter in low-temperature condensed matter physics and practical spintronics.