A team of scientists across Europe and Japan are aiming to create a new material to replace the scarce metal found in many of today’s magnetic storage products.
The EU-backed project, being led by York University in the UK over the next four years, has been set up to develop Heusler alloy films that act as cost-effective alternatives to iridium.
According to York University, all spin electronic devices use an iridium alloy, including hard disk drives and next-generation magnetic memories. The price of iridium has risen, however, due to the scarcity of the metal and the increasing take-up of these new technologies.
Dr Atsufumi Hirohata, from York University's Department of Electronics, said: “It is widely recognised that spin electronic technologies will displace volatile semiconductor memory technology within the next decade. Therefore the lack of availability of one crucial element from within the periodic table is a critical issue to be solved urgently.
“The price of iridium has risen by a factor of four in the last five years and by more than a factor of 10 in the last decade. It is expected to soar perhaps by a factor of 100 due to its wider application.”
The European research team includes Bielefeld and Konstanz Universities, in Germany, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, in Hungary, and UK-based Mackintosh Consultants, as well as the University of York’s Departments of Electronics and Physics.
The European scientists will be working closely with a Japanese research team led by Prof Koki Takanashi from Tohoku University.
Under the project, the researchers will use techniques such as high-resolution (scanning) transmission electron microscopy and highly sensitive electrical and magnetic measurement facilities available within the consortium.
Takanashi said: “My colleagues at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organisation in Tsukuba and my staff here at Tohoku University are excited to be working with such prestigious universities in Europe on this challenging but vital research. Iridium is such a rare metal - twice as rare as gold in the earth’s crust – that relying on it for such a key future technology represents a very high risk strategy.
“Our research programme will impact this key material directly by providing an improved understanding of a wide ranging class of ternary alloys, and we will seek to find new materials and new compositions of Heusler alloys to replace the need for iridium in spin electronic devices.”
The €3.6 million (£3 million) Heusler Alloy Replacement for Iridium (HARFIR) project is being funded by the EU and Japanese Science and Technology Agency, with each contributing half of the overall investment.