The discovery of graphene in 2004 led to an explosion of two-dimensional insulators, semiconductors and superconductors. Since that time, however, one specific single-atom-thick material has remained elusive… until now.

Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, a condensed-matter physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Xiaodong Xu, an optoelectronics researcher with the University of Washington, joined forces in 2016 in the hunt for a 2D magnet – a quest each had been on separately up to that point. It didn’t take long for the duo to attain their goal.

A paper detailing their breakthrough, published in a recent issue of Nature, notes the use of chromium triiodide to create the 2D magnet. This material was selected due to the fact that it is a crystal comprised of stacked sheets that can be separated using the “Scotch tape” technique that was instrumental in the early days of graphene.

As suspected, the scientists found that the material maintained its magnetic characteristics even when stripped down to a single-atom-thick layer. Oddly enough, a two-layer-thick sheet isn’t magnetic yet when a third layer is added, it once again becomes a ferromagnet.

While a significant breakthrough in the world of physics, these 2D magnets still need plenty of refinement before they show up in consumer-facing devices. That’s because, in their current state, they must be kept at a temperature of -228 degrees C (roughly -378 degrees F).

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