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May 2nd, 2007
Collaborative research between scientists in the UK and USA has led to a major breakthrough in the understanding of antiferromagnets, published in this week's Nature. Scientists at the London Centre for Nanotechnology, the University of Chicago and the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory have used x-rays to see the internal workings of antiferromagnets for the very first time.
Unlike conventional magnets, antiferromagnets (such as the metal chromium) are materials which exhibit ‘secret' magnetism, undetectable at a macroscopic level. Instead, their magnetism is confined to very small regions where atoms behave as tiny magnets. They spontaneously align themselves opposite to adjacent atoms, leaving the material magnetically neutral overall.
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