Impression of an iron oxide crystal lattice. Red: spins of iron ions, Blue: oxygen ions. Green: electrons in their orbit responsible for the exchange interaction. The interaction keeps the spins aligned. A light pulse excites the electrons, changes the exchange interaction and thus releases the spins.
An international team led by Radboud University physicists has discovered that reversing the poles of magnets must be possible without a heating or a magnetic field.. A strong pulse of light can have a direct effect on the strong quantum mechanical 'exchange interaction', therefore changing the magnetism (Nature Communications, 16 September 2015).
In 2007, Professor Rasing and his group at Radboud University showed for the first time that fast pulses of laser light can reverse the poles of magnets. This was a paradigm shift as, until then, physicists believed that light could never be strong enough to break the strong magnetic interaction forces. It can, however, and very local heating by the laser pulse in combination with differences in the response times of the constituent atoms can explain this phenomenon. The researchers have now discovered a new way in which light can manipulate magnetisation.