Era of Next-Generation Electronics Draws Closer with the Discovery of Spintronics

Sept. 22, 2005
Spintronics - the pioneering new technology, wherein both the charge and spin of an electron are used to carry information - is generating great excitement in the world of technology for its immense potential in a wide variety of applications. "The ...

Spintronics - the pioneering new technology, wherein both the charge and spin of an electron are used to carry information - is generating great excitement in the world of technology for its immense potential in a wide variety of applications.

"The first applications of spintronics having been demonstrated, there is tremendous interest in the development of the next spintronics device coupled with the hope that it could foster a new revolution," remarks Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Sivakumar Muthuramalingam.

Spintronics truly gained traction after the discovery of giant magnetoresistance (GMR) in the 1980s. One of the earliest spin phenomena studied extensively, GMR is leading the way towards the commercialisation of spintronics, with GMR sensors holding a bulk of the market share in commercial hard disk drives.

Perhaps spintronics' biggest potential lies in embedded memories. Non-volatile memory devices such as magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM) will revolutionise the memory market and contribute to the development of sophisticated and versatile computing and personal devices. Promising to introduce innovations such as instantly bootable computers, MRAM looks poised for resounding success.

MRAM has already attracted considerable funding from organisations such as the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to enable private industry to conduct research into MRAM's massive potential. Funding in Europe, while not as active as in the United States, is rapidly catching up.

The levels of technology innovation in spintronics are also high in Europe. Scientists and researchers are focusing on developing radical spintronics materials with the aim of creating a new generation of devices that are able to effectively harness the spin of electrons.

A team of researchers at The Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden successfully developed a mixture of zinc oxide and manganese at room temperature that is not only a semiconductor but also exhibits exploitable magnetic properties at temperatures as high as 177 degrees C.

"This breakthrough enables the technology to be applied commercially to a variety of applications and has opened the doors for its eventual mass production," says Mr. Muthuramalingam. "Circuits made with the new material have the potential to run hundreds of times faster or store thousands of times more information than current electronic designs."

In other groundbreaking developments, the possibility of detecting spin on something as minute as a single electron has reached new heights with the discovery of a technique called magnetic resonance force microscopy (MRFM). This discovery could have far-reaching implications in exciting potential applications such as quantum computing.

In this attempt to take magnetic force detection down to the level of sensing the spin on a single electron, researchers at UCLA and Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States and at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands developed a spin-to-charge conversion technique. Using this technique, they were able to read out the spin values of a single electron spin stored in a semiconductor quantum dot.

Nanomagnetics is also approaching closer to reality with physicists in England having found a way to manipulate magnetism in much the same way that electronic devices control electric charge. Their development of an all-metallic submicrometer device could be the first step toward microchips that calculate magnetically. This device not only performs logical NOT operations on magnetic logic signals, it does so at room temperature.

This is a considerable achievement for spintronics researchers who have been working on exploiting the fact that electrons are magnetised along their spin axes. With the potential ability of magnetic materials and magnetically polarised currents to store bits of information, performing calculations will become far more effective.

Spintronics - An Emerging Technology Analysis is part of the Semiconductor Vertical Subscription Service, and provides an exhaustive technology analysis of emerging spintronics. It discusses ongoing research in this field as well as examines its potential adoption, applications, and opportunities. The study focuses especially on user concerns in terms of the practical applications of spintronics technology and real-world issues that are likely to hamper technology adoption. Executive summaries and analyst interviews are available to the press.

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