A groundbreaking research team from Japan, comprising scientists from Hitachi, Ltd., Kyushu University, RIKEN, HREM Research Inc., National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), and the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), has achieved a significant milestone in the observation of magnetic fields at incredibly small scales. This achievement marks a major breakthrough in scientific research and has the potential to revolutionize various fields ranging from fundamental physics to the development of next-generation devices.

In recent years, the development and adoption of high-performance materials with tailored characteristics have led to numerous advancements in electronic devices, catalysis, transportation, and energy generation. The properties of crystalline materials are heavily influenced by factors such as atom arrangement and electron behavior. The orientation and strength of magnetic fields at the interfaces between different materials or atomic layers play a crucial role in explaining many unique physical phenomena.

Prior to this groundbreaking achievement, the maximum resolution at which the magnetic field of atomic layers could be observed was limited to approximately 0.67 nm, a record set by Hitachi in 2017 using their state-of-the-art holography electron microscope. However, through a collaborative effort, researchers have managed to surpass this limit by addressing key limitations in the technology, as detailed in their publication in the journal Nature on July 3, 2024.

The research team first developed a system to automate the control and tuning of the device during data acquisition, significantly accelerating the imaging process. By capturing 10,000 images over 8.5 hours and performing specific averaging operations, they were able to minimize noise and obtain clear images containing electric field and magnetic field data. Additionally, they implemented a technique to correct for minute defocusing, which eliminated aberrations and improved the visibility of atomic positions and phases with magnetic field information.

By leveraging these advancements, the team conducted electron holography measurements on samples of Ba2FeMoO6, a layered crystalline material with distinct magnetic fields in adjacent atomic layers. Through comparisons with simulations, they confirmed that they had achieved an unprecedented resolution of 0.47 nm in observing the magnetic fields of Ba2FeMoO6. This breakthrough opens up avenues for direct observations of magnetic lattices in specific areas of various materials and devices.

The researchers anticipate that their remarkable achievement will contribute to solving a multitude of scientific and technological challenges. The availability of the atomic-resolution holography electron microscope for various parties is expected to drive advancements in fields spanning from fundamental physics to the development of next-generation devices. Moreover, it is believed that this breakthrough will play a pivotal role in the development of high-performance magnets and functional materials, essential for decarbonization and energy-saving initiatives, ultimately leading towards the realization of a carbon-neutral society.

The research team’s accomplishment in observing magnetic fields at atomic scales represents a significant leap forward in scientific research and technological innovation. By overcoming previous limitations and pushing the boundaries of observation, they have paved the way for unprecedented insights into the behavior of magnetic materials, opening up new possibilities for advancements in various fields.


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