Even as computer chips become smaller and more powerful, many scientists are worried that micro electronics are reaching a limit. As more transistors are crammed on a chip, they and the wires that connect them lose more energy. Manufacturing the tiny processors is becoming increasingly more difficult, time consuming and expensive. Now an alternative approach called “spintronics” holds promise to produce ever smaller and more powerful micro devices.
Spintronics involves controlling the spin - or magnetic orientation - of electrons. Electron spin is a quantum property that has two possible states, either "up" or "down.” Aligning spins in a material creates magnetism. Moreover, magnetic fields affect the passage of "up" and "down" electrons differently. Understanding and controlling this property is central to creating a whole new breed of electronic properties.
To research the promise of spintronics and to create new high-performance, low-power electronics, scientists at IBM's Almaden Research Center and Stanford have formed the IBM-Stanford Spintronic Science and Applications Center (SpinAps, for short). Both IBM and the California university already have experience in the field. Stanford has been leading academic research in spintronics. And the first mass-produced spintronic device, developed by IBM Research, has already revolutionized the hard-disk drive industry.
While commercial products from SpinAps research probably won’t appear for at least five years, scientists foresee creating new materials and devices with entirely new capabilities - such as reconfigurable logic devices, room-temperature superconductors and quantum computers.
"SpinAps researchers will work to create breakthroughs that could revolutionize the electronics industry, just as the transistor did 50 years ago," said Robert Morris, Almaden Lab Director.