X-ray magnetism

Researchers are studying how X-rays interact with matter with the aim of producing more powerful exotic magnets that could be used in electric cars or new CT scanners.

A team of scientists from WarwickUniversity, the STFC Daresbury Laboratory in Warrington and the Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire, have uncovered characteristics of electrons that determine properties such as chemical bonding and the formation of magnetism.

X-rays can pass through solid objects with a degree of loss or absorption depending on the density of the material. The absorption of an X-ray occurs when the X-ray interacts and transfers its energy to an electron or an atom, so measuring the absorption of X-rays can reveal a lot about the state of these electrons and atoms.

Using a property known as the Borrmann effect, the researchers have been able to measure a previously hard-to-identify part of the absorption, the quadrupole absorption component.

Measurement of this absorption provides information about the path of electrons around atoms, known as orbitals, specifically orbitals that are responsible for magnetism and chemical bonding. Understanding these orbitals could be the key to understanding and developing new exotic magnets that can operate in extreme conditions and temperatures, such as those required to operate electric vehicles, advanced superconductors or new X-ray imaging techniques.