Researchers at the University of Basel reported a new method that can control the physical state of several atoms or molecules in the network. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into an extensive network of pores with a size of about 1 nm. In “little” magazine, physicists reported their investigation, which may be particularly important for the development of new storage devices.

Around the world, researchers are trying to reduce data storage devices to achieve the largest storage capacity in the smallest possible space. In almost all forms of media, phase transition is used for storage. For example, for CD production, a very thin metal sheet in plastic is used, which melts in microseconds and then solidifies again. Achieving this goal at the atomic or molecular level is the subject of research projects led by researchers at the University of Basel.

Changing the phase of a single atom for data storage

In principle, phase transitions at the individual atomic or molecular level can be used to store data; Such storage devices already exist in research. However, they are very labor-intensive and expensive to manufacture. The team led by Professor Thomas Jung of Basel university is committed to using self-organizing process to produce micro storage units composed of only a few atoms, which greatly simplifies the production process.

To do this, the team first made an organometallic network that looked like a sieve with precisely defined pores. When the correct connection and conditions are selected, the molecules are independently arranged into a regular supramolecular structure.

Xenon atom: sometimes solid, sometimes liquid

The lead author of the current study, physicist Aisha Ahsan, has now added a single xenon atom to the pores, which are only slightly larger than 1 nm in size. By using temperature changes and locally applied electric pulses, she successfully switched the physical state of xenon atoms between solid and liquid. She can cause this phase transition in all holes at the same time through temperature. The temperature of phase transition depends on the stability of xenon clusters, which varies based on the number of xenon atoms. Using a microscope sensor, she can also locally induce phase transition for a single hole containing xenon.

Since these experiments must be carried out at very low temperatures of several Kelvin (below – 260 ° C), xenon atoms themselves cannot be used to create new data storage devices. However, experiments show that supramolecular networks are suitable for the production of micro structures in principle, in which only a small number of atoms or molecules can induce phase transition.

“We will now test larger molecules and short chain alcohols. These higher temperatures change the state, which means they can be used,” said Professor Thomas Jung, who oversaw the work.

Graphic animation of atomic potential data storage devices: data storage elements – composed of only six xenon atoms – are liquefied using voltage pulses.

Responsible editor: CT

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