Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Birth of Spintronics

Interesting concept - use the spin of an atom's nucleus to store digital information, rather than the charge of an electron. This is very early research - far from a commercial product, but maybe in 20 years we'll be teaching spintronics instead of electronics.

Spintronics: A New Way To Store Digital Data:
Scientists at the University of Utah have taken an important step toward the day when digital information can be stored in the spin of an atom's nucleus, rather than as an electrical charge in a semiconductor.

The scientists' setup requires powerful magnets and can only be operated at minus 454 degrees Fahrenheit, so don't expect to see spin memory on the shelf at a computer store anytime soon. 
Christoph Boehme, an associate professor at the University of Utah, says the most important thing he and his team have done is show that it's possible to store information in spin and read it rather easily. 

Here's how they did it: First, they used a strong magnetic field to make sure all their atoms were pointing in the same direction. Then they measured which way the nucleus of an atom was spinning. Physicists don't talk about spinning clockwise or counterclockwise — they call the spins either up or down.

"This up and down can now represent information," says Boehme. "An up means a one, and a down means a zero."
Storing and manipulating these zeroes and ones — bits, in computer parlance — is at the heart of how computers work. Today, those zeroes and ones are stored using electric charge — positive or negative. In the future, things might be different. 
"Instead of electronics, people want to use spins and build spintronics, and if you do so, you need to be able to store information," says Boehme.

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