And then there were four

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Ruthenium, the element found at number 44 on the periodic table, was discovered to be magnetic at room temperature, becoming the only fourth element.

The discovery, made by a team of scientists led by Patrick Quarterman of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), paves the way for a new generation of spintronic sensors, computing devices and applications.

The first element known to be magnetic at room temperature, iron, was discovered thousands of years ago. Two more – cobalt and nickel – have been added more recently. Another, rare earth gadolinium, is also magnetic, but only when its temperature is raised to about eight degrees Celsius above room temperature.

Quarterman and colleagues reveal properties of ruthenium in a paper in the review Nature Communication.

To make the discovery, the team first had to find a way to “grow” the element into a structure that forced it to enter a magnetic phase. The correct shape turned out to be an ultra-thin film, which makes it potentially very useful for next-generation electronic applications, many of which require manipulation on an atomic scale.

“This is an exciting but difficult problem,” says co-author Jian-Ping Wang of the University of Minnesota in the United States.

“It took us about two years to find a good way to cultivate this material and validate it. This work will inspire the magnetic research community to look into fundamental aspects of magnetism for many well-known elements. “

Andrew Masterson

Andrew Masterson

Andrew Masterson is a former editor-in-chief of Cosmos.

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