A team of Iowa State University researchers, working at the US Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, recently detailed a way to use ultra-short laser pulses and special materials to switch magnetism roughly 1,000 times faster than current-generation storage devices.

First published in the journal Nature on April 4, the findings of Professor Jigang Wang and his team showed the results of experiments with colossal magnetoresistive materials, which can sharply change their magnetic resistance in the presence of an electrical field.

Present-day magnetic storage relies on heating ferromagnetic materials, usually with other magnetic fields or continuous laser light, in order to change their direction - which takes a lot longer than using infinitesimal pulses from a laser to provoke the same reaction from colossally magnetoresistive material, according to a statement issued by the Ames Laboratory.

Essentially, the technique developed by the ISU researchers could allow RAM modules or hard drives to change zeros to ones far faster than they currently can, while using much less energy to do so.

Wang said the technology isn't something that's going to hit the shelves anytime soon, however.

"Colossal magnetoresistive materials are very appealing for use in technologies, but we still need to understand more about how they work," said Wang. "And, in particular, we must understand what happens during the very short periods of time when heating is not significant and the laser pulses are still interacting with magnetic moments in CMR materials."