Superparamagnetism

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Superparamagnetism is a phenomena by which magnetic materials may exhibit a behavior similar to paramagnetism at temperatures below the Curie or the Neel temperature.

Normally, coupling forces in magnetic materials cause the magnetic moments of neighboring atoms to align, resulting in very large internal magnetic fields. At temperatures above the Curie temperature (or the Neel temperature for antiferromagnetic materials), the thermal energy is sufficient to overcome the coupling forces, causing the atomic magnetic moments to fluctuate randomly. Because there is no longer any magnetic order, the internal magnetic field no longer exists and the material exhibits paramagnetic behavior.

Superparamagnetism occurs when the material is composed of very small crystallites (1-10 nm). In this case even though the temperature is below the Curie or Neel temperature and the thermal energy is not sufficient to overcome the coupling forces between neighboring atoms, the thermal energy is sufficient to change the direction of magnetization of the entire crystallite. The resulting fluctuations in the direction of magnetization cause the magnetic field to average to zero. The material behaves in a manner similar to paramagnetism, except that instead of each individual atom being independently influenced by an external magnetic field, the magnetic moment of the entire crystallite tends to align with the magnetic field.

The energy required to change the direction of magnetization of a crystallite is called the Crystalline anisotropy energy and depends both on the material properties and the crystallite size. As the crystallite size decreases, so does the Crystalline anisotropy energy, resulting in a decrease in the temperature at which the material becomes superparamagnetic.