Ural Federal University: University Creates Multifunctional Magnetic Materials and Systems

One of the components of the large-scale project “Design and Technology of Functional Materials and Systems” is the direction “Magnetic Materials and Systems”. The project is implemented in accordance with the Priority 2030 program of strategic academic leadership. The direction includes several tasks: improvement of production of permanent magnets, development of technologies for manufacturing magnetic sensors and spintronics, creation of domestic analogue of mass reference and soft magnetic materials with programmable and controllable magnetic response.

The fields of practical application of the created magnetic materials and systems are wind and electric power engineering, manned cosmonautics, medicine, new generation computer technologies, metrology, and many others.

The project, headed by Vladimir Vaskovskiy, Head of the Department of Magnetism and Magnetic Nanomaterials at UrFU, involves three other departments, several scientific divisions, and about 50 researchers at UrFU.

The specific feature of such strategic projects as “Design and Technology of Functional Materials and Systems” is that they are carried out together with the university’s partners. UrFU partners in the direction of “Magnetic Materials and Systems” are the Russian Academy of Sciences, in particular, the M.N. Mikheev Institute of Metal Physics, as well as the Rosatom State Corporation. For example, Rosatom is interested in the development of permanent magnet technologies.

“Permanent magnets are used in high-efficiency motors and generators, including wind turbines. A modern wind turbine is half a ton of permanent magnets. The better the quality of the magnets, the more compact and powerful the generators. Rosatom State Corporation, which, in addition to nuclear power, develops green energy, including wind power, sets the goal of increasing the domestic production of magnets from 50 to 1000 tons per year,” Vladimir Vaskovskiy explains the corporation’s interest in cooperating with the university.

Another research area of UrFU and Rosatom is 3D printing of permanent magnets. In contrast to mass production of magnets, 3D printing is aimed at manufacturing microelectromechanical systems – complex micron-sized devices consisting of mechanical elements, sensors, electronics, and actuators.

“These are, for example, micromotors for the heart muscle that set the heart rhythm. Such devices are made by forming permanent magnets of specified configurations using laser sintering technology of premade magnetic powders. At the same time, it is possible to manufacture permanent magnets with already integrated magnetic cores made of soft magnetic alloys. UrFU has the laser 3D printer necessary for this,” continues Vaskovskiy.

The results of scientific and technical developments in the field of magnetic materials and systems are also of interest to another state corporation, Roscosmos, which, represented by the Ekaterinburg-based Scientific and Production Association of automatics named after academician N.A.Semikhatov, is a customer of research in the field of sensorics. The Ural Federal University is known for its development of magnetic sensors, which are sensitive elements that convert a magnetic field acting on them into an electrical signal. Devices using such sensors are indispensable on manned spacecraft, whose life support system includes a huge number of cables. Tiny, the size of a square millimeter, yet resistant to spacecraft conditions and highly accurate, the sensors created at UrFU under the guidance of Vladimir Vaskovskiy are elements of sensors that will continuously monitor the current in the cables and thus the operability of all spacecraft systems.

“Previously, in order to connect the sensors to the cable, we had to perform a risky operation of breaking the electric circuit, but the determination of the current with the help of the sensors is done contactless, by fixing the magnetic field at the surface of the cable. In terrestrial conditions, the sensors we developed can be used to measure and continuously monitor the current flowing through power lines,” says Vladimir Vaskovskiy.

Another area of breakthrough research and development of the university scientists is the creation, together with colleagues from the Ural Research Institute of Metrology – a branch of the Federal State Unitary Enterprise “D.I.Mendeleyev Institute for Metrology”, of a domestic version of Kibble balance – a highly accurate electromagnetic measuring system, which should become the national standard unit of mass – the kilogram. The project to create Russian Kibble balance is predicted to take at least five years. However, today the Ural scientists have already defined the main approaches, which will allow to create Kibble balance with accuracy characteristics not inferior to the best world samples.

“We are talking about solving the fundamental problem of reducing the dependence of the properties of the elements of the magnetic system of scales on the strength of the electric current in it. In the next stage, the homogeneity of the magnetic field will be improved and the measuring system will be improved. In both cases, our scientists are moving confidently toward solving the tasks at hand,” comments Vladimir Vaskovskiy.

The next component of the “Magnetic Materials and Systems” research area is work in the field of media for spin electronics – spintronics. “Classical” electronics is based on the fact that an electric field controls the motion of electrons – negatively charged particles and thus creates an electric current, which is an ordered movement of electrons. At the same time, besides electric charge, electrons have a magnetic moment – spin. Therefore, the movement of electrons can be influenced not only by the electric field, but also by the magnetic field. This is the principle upon which spintronics is based.

“One of the problems in spintronics is that, colliding with crystal lattice nodes as they move, electrons unpredictably change their spin orientation and, after traveling a distance of no more than 10 nanometers, get out of magnetic control. Thus, nature has imposed a dimensional constraint on the elements of spintronics, and this poses serious physical and technological challenges. From a practical point of view, their solution will open the way to widespread use of still experimental magnetoresistive RAM devices, MRAM. These revolutionary devices combine the performance of computer RAM with the non-volatile nature of the hard disk drive,” explains Vaskovskiy.

Finally, another group of UrFU scientists is studying the “individual” and “group” behavior of magnetic nanoscale particles in liquids and gels. In particular, their colleagues found that the particles respond not only to the external magnetic field, but also to each other, so their “collective” behavior is not reduced to the sum of “individual” reactions and represents a special phenomenon. In addition, it was found that small particles obey the “collective” behavior of large particles.

“These discoveries are important for the development of smart materials capable of changing their properties in a controlled manner under the influence of a constant or alternating magnetic field. In the future, such materials can be used in technologies of targeted medicine delivery to specific parts of the body, in the treatment of cancer by hyperthermia, when magnetic particles are used to provide local heating of parts of an organ affected by cancerous cells. Such materials are also used to increase the contrast of X-ray and tomographic images of internal organs, in the manufacture of liquid crystal screens, photodetectors, heat conductors, sealants, and hydraulic shock absorbers,” describes Vaskovskiy.

In accordance with the federal Priority 2030 program by the end of the decade, the research of Ural Federal University scientists in the field of “Magnetic Materials and Systems” will be completed with substantive solutions for creating high-tech products, their implementation and practical use in leading sectors of the Russian economy and in the social sphere.

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