Where No Magnet Has Gone Before

DON'T TRY PICKING UP A BLOCK MF RUTHENIUM WITH A magnet--it'll just sit there. But put one atomic layer of the platinum-like element onto a neutral substrate, and it will be nearly as magnetic as a block of iron. That's the prediction of Northwestern University physicist Arthur J. Freeman, who calculated the magnetic properties of a monolayer of ruthenium using a Cray 90 atthe Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. In the computer-generated image, the pink through light-blue portions represent a large positive magnetic spin. Says Freeman: "We're creating magnetism where none existed before."

While ruthenium may be too expensive to store data on compact disks, the computer design of magnetic materials has already paid off in other ways. Researchers trying to verify Freeman's simulations of iron monolayers on silver ended up discovering that the magnetic poles lined up perpendicular to the plate instead of horizontally--making possible far denser data storage. By 2000, Freeman says, researchers hope to increase density 12-fold, to 10 gigabits of data per square inch.