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Discovery Opens Potential for Spintronic Logic

Tue, 12/09/2008 - 5:27am

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NIST magnetic chip technology
Researchers working at NIST have confirmed that
thin magnetic layers (red) of a semiconductor
separated by a nonmagnetic layer (blue) can exhibit
a coveted phenomenon known as “antiferromagnetic coupling,”
in which manganese (Mn) atoms in successive magnetic layers
spontaneously orient their magnetization in opposite directions.
This discovery, made by scattering neutrons (arrows) from the material, raises the prospects of “spintronic logic circuits”
that could both store and process data.

Researchers working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated for the first time the existence of a key magnetic—as opposed to electronic—property of specially built semiconductor devices. This discovery raises hopes for even smaller and faster gadgets that could result from magnetic data storage in a semiconductor material, which could then quickly process the data through built-in logic circuits controlled by electric fields.

Magnetic data storage is currently utilized with great success in consumer products such as computer hard drives and MP3 players. But these storage devices are based on metallic materials. These conventional hard drives can only hold data; they have to send the data to a semiconductor-based device to process the data, slowing down performance.

In a new paper,* researchers from NIST, Korea University and the University of Notre Dame have confirmed theorists’ hopes that thin magnetic layers of semiconductor material could exhibit a prized property known as antiferromagnetic coupling—in which one layer spontaneously aligns its magnetic pole in the opposite direction as the next magnetic layer. The discovery of antiferromagnetic coupling in metals was the basis of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics, but it is only recently that it has become conceivable for semiconductor materials. Semiconductors with magnetic properties would not only be able to process data, but also store it.

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