The new spintronics device uses the first room-temperature magnetic organic polymer, V(TCNE).  (Source: OSU/Epstein Group/Nature)

Arthur Epstein (left, front) is a leader in the field of spintronics.  (Source: OSU/Epstein Group)

Spintronics memory and other circuits could prevent devices like the iPad from overheating and having to take a trip to the freezer.  (Source: ImageFrog)
New plastic device stores information using magnetism, could eventually replace traditional memory

When people think of a magnetic strip performing a useful purpose, the first thing to pop into mind might be the little strip on the back of their credit or debit cards.  Now a new type of magnetic technology could transform the way our computers run.

Researchers at Ohio State University claim to have created the world's first functioning plastic "spintronics" device.  "Spintronics" is a field of electronics dealing with controlling the spins of electrons to store information.  Spintronics is viewed as a possible replacement to traditional silicon flash memory and even processing electronics.  The new technology uses less space, processes data faster, and consumes less power than its silicon brethren.

OSU's implementation of an organic spintronics device used a thin strip of dark blue organic-based magnet, layered with an iron based ferromagnet, and attached to two electrical leads.

Arthur J. Epstein, Distinguished University Professor of physics and chemistry and director of theInstitute for Magnetic and Electronic Polymers at Ohio State, led the study.  The key to it, he says, was the magnetic polymer semiconductor vanadium tetracyanoethanide which he developed with long-standing collaborator Joel S. Miller of the University of Utah.  Vanadium tetracyanoethanide is the first organic-based magnet that operates above room temperature.  It is perhaps fitting that this revolutionary material was applied to such a revolutionary field of computing.

Why are spintronics circuits so promising?  Typical electric circuits use differing levels of charge to assign a logical value of 0 or 1.  To operate, computers much shuffle charge around, flipping bits.  The transfer of electricity creates a great deal of waste heat -- hence the metal coolers and fans on your computer's processors (or the reason a fan-less iPad shuts down on a sunny summer day).

Spintronics, by contrast, assign 0s and 1s based on which spin most of the electrons in the component have.  Changing the spin simply requires the application of a magnetic field -- a process that creates much less heat than transferring charge, and can potentially use less energy.  It also results in a higher circuit density as twice as much information can be stored per electron.

Epsetin remarks, "Spintronics is often just seen as a way to get more information out of an electron, but really it’s about moving to the next generation of electronics. We could solve many of the problems facing computers today by using spintronics."

"We would love to take portable electronics to a spin platform.  Think about soldiers in the field who have to carry heavy battery packs, or even civilian ‘road warriors’ commuting to meetings. If we had a lighter weight spintronic device which operates itself at a lower energy cost, and if we could make it on a flexible polymer display, soldiers and other users could just roll it up and carry it. We see this portable technology as a powerful platform for helping people."

To test the device's recording capabilities the researchers exposed it to an alternating magnetic field.  They then measured the electric current passing through the devices magnetic layers (the organic polymer and a base inorganic metallic film).

The best part of all is that the patented technology should be easy to commercialize using existing processes.  OSU postdoctoral researcher Jung-Woo Yoo, who played a key role in the study states, "Any place that makes computer chips could do this. Plus, in this case, we made the device at room temperature, and the process is very eco-friendly."

The paper on the device is published in the August 2010 issue of the journal 
Nature Materials.

The paper is co-authored by Chia-Yi Chen and Vladimir Prigodin of Ohio State, and H.W. Jang, C.W. Bark, and Chang-Beom Eom of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  It received funding from the funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Department of Energy, theNational Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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