ANN ARBOR – Researchers at the University of Michigan, collaborating with chip-maker Intel, have created a new iron alloy that could be a major feature of magnet-based computers of tomorrow. Their work was published recently in Nature Communications.

Their alloy acts as a magnetostrictor. That means it relies on the fact that when you plunge a magnetic material, such as iron, within a magnetic field, that material subtly shape-shifts. By adding other metals (an alloy is a mixture of metallic elements) and fine-tuning their proportions, you can make alloys that are more magnetostrictive, or more flexible when their magnetic fields change.

Today, magnetostrictors help us build high-quality sensors, since we can detect the changes of a good magnetostrictor’s shape in the presence of magnetic fields, even rather weak ones. By using electrical current to create magnetic fields, you can force a magnetostrictor to shape-shift. In this way, you can convert the electrical energy of the current, relatively easily, into the mechanical energy of the magnetostrictor changing shape.

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