A study of the elec­tric field con­trol of mag­netism led by a North­eastern engi­neering pro­fessor was named one of the top 10 papers of the past decade by the pres­ti­gious journal Advanced Func­tional Materials.

Pro­fessor of elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering Nian Sun and his team reported on their effort to solve the need for greater energy effi­ciency in con­trol­ling mag­netic prop­er­ties, in appli­ca­tions such as motors; gen­er­a­tors; disk drives; induc­tors; and trans­formers in cars, com­puters and cell phones.

The con­ven­tional approach has been through fields gen­er­ated by elec­tro­mag­nets, which require large amounts of cur­rent, are bulky, and severely limit the appli­ca­tions of mag­netic mate­rials. Sun and his col­leagues pur­sued a newer method known as elec­tric field con­trol, which is poten­tially more space and energy efficient.

As part of this research, Sun began inves­ti­gating a new group of com­posite mate­rials, known as mul­ti­fer­roic com­pos­ites, five years ago. A strong, effec­tive mag­netic field was pro­duced by an elec­tric field in a lay­ered mul­ti­fer­roic com­posite, which used a neg­li­gible amount of energy. In sharp con­trast, con­ven­tional elec­tro­mag­nets typ­i­cally need hun­dreds of watts of power con­sump­tion to gen­erate such a mag­netic field, Sun said.

The effec­tive elec­tric field con­trol of mag­netism in mag­netic lay­ered struc­tures has sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­ical impli­ca­tions,” said Sun. “The com­pact and nearly pas­sive elec­tric mag­netic con­trol of mag­netism could lead to more com­pact wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems and radar sys­tems with sig­nif­i­cantly reduced power con­sump­tion and longer bat­tery life. It may also lead to new mag­netic random access memory devices and other novel spin­tronic devices. The effec­tive elec­tric field con­trol of mag­netism may dra­mat­i­cally change our lifestyle.”

The research advances Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to find solu­tions to global chal­lenges, with a focus on health, secu­rity, and sustainability.

Mem­bers of Sun’s research team included Stephen Stoute, a North­eastern under­grad­uate elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering stu­dent, and two Mass­a­chu­setts high school stu­dents, Magnum Lew from Wellesley High School and Xiaodan Situ from Quincy High School.