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Ali applied a magnetic field to a sample of WTe2, one way to kill superconductivity if present, and saw that its resistance doubled. Intrigued, Ali worked with Jun Xiong, a student in the laboratory of Nai Phuan Ong, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics at Princeton, to re-measure the material's magnetoresistance, which is the change in resistance as a material is exposed to stronger magnetic fields.
"He noticed the magnetoresistance kept going up and up and up -- that never happens." said Cava. The researchers then exposed WTe2 to a 60-tesla magnetic field, close to the strongest magnetic field humans can create, and observed a magnetoresistance of 13 million percent. The material's magnetoresistance displayed unlimited growth, making it the only known material without a saturation point. The results were published on September 14 in the journal Nature
Electronic information storage is dependent on the use of magnetic fields to switch between distinct resistivity values that correlate to either a one or a zero. The larger the magnetoresistance, the smaller the magnetic field needed to change from one state to another, Ali said. Today's devices use layered materials with so-called "giant magnetoresistance," with changes in resistance of 20,000 to 30,000 percent when a magnetic field is applied. "Colossal magnetoresistance" is close to 100,000 percent, so for a magnetoresistance percentage in the millions, the researchers hoped to coin a new term.