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Illustration of the breakthrough method of electron spin injection, precession, and detection in silicon. (Source: University of Delaware, Ian Appelbaum)
A breakthrough in this promising field of nanoelectronics could revolutionize the design of digital devices

A new generation of electronics that are vastly smaller, faster, and more power-efficient came closer to fruition this month thanks to the work of a team of U.S. scientists.

As described in this month's academic journal Nature (subscription required), researchers Ian Appelbaum and Biqin Huang of the University of Delaware and Douwe Monsma of Massachusetts-based Cambridge NanoTech have succeeded in creating a working spintronic device based on conventional silicon.

Spintronics is a promising approach to creating electronic devices that store information based on the spin of electrons, rather than the more cumbersome conventional method of relying on the electron's charge.

An electron's spin refers to its directional rotation. Unlike a spinning tire or a toy top, an electron's spin is a quantum property, and thus a constant value that does not change. Scientists are working to harness this property by aligning multiple electrons so they all spin in the same direction. This polarization allows the creation of a spin current as well as a current of electrical charges.

One of the major drawbacks to creating practical spintronic devices has been the inability to use silicon substrates. Aligning the spin of electrons requires the use of ferromagnets. However, ferromagnets bonded to silicon have a scrambling effect on the electrons, making the creation of a coherent stream of polarized electrons difficult to achieve.

The team from Delaware and Massachusetts appears to have overcome the
problem by keeping the layer ferromagnetic material extremely thin -- only 5 nanometers -- and by using high-energy electrons. The team was also able to reverse the spin of the electrons by applying a magnetic field.

The ability to create spintronic devices using conventional silicon substrates rather than metal or gallium arsenide makes the approach significantly more viable, since it could theoretically be adapted to the existing silicon-based manufacturing processes that are prevalent in the electronics industry.

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RE: What effect would this have on memory?
By PseudoKnight on 5/18/2007 2:19:18 AM , Rating: 4
Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I've read this isn't a storage medium but a completely different method to read/write 1s and 0s in all electronic components. Thus, it'll have an impact on performance across nearly the whole system, including RAM.

RE: What effect would this have on memory?
By DanTheManRIP on 5/18/2007 4:33:56 AM , Rating: 2
My understanding of it, is that it could improve performance on any device that has some form of memory. So yeah, thats pretty much everything.

By ksherman on 5/18/2007 7:32:41 AM , Rating: 2
Your still using RAM? Man, get with the program! ;-)

I love reading about the cutting edge breakthroughs. Shows the hope for the future that my cell phone in 10 years could hold as much processing power as my desktop today.

By DublinGunner on 5/18/2007 7:33:36 AM , Rating: 2
Not only that, it can be applied at the processor level too. As the processor performing calculation on data obvioulsy need sto manipulate the electrons in order to output a resultant value.

Its basically a completely different way of representing 1's and 0's in electronics.

Very promising, but wont make it into consumer level goods (if it ever does) for probably around 10-15 years, like all new technologies.

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