Graphene might be stealing all the headlines, but other forms of carbon are still making waves in the emerging field of spintronics.
So says researcher Michel de Jong, based at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. De Jong has just received a €1.5m grant from the European Research Council to fund his work in the NanoElectronics group, investigating the use of organics (for clarity: these are molecules composed of long carbon chains, not expensive veggies) in spintronics.
Spintronics – the use of a particle’s spin state to store, process and transmit information – should one day make for smarter, faster and cooler electronics. For example, an electron’s spin can either be up or down and can be more finely controlled with a magnetic field than current can with an on or off switch.
De Jong is working on developing materials that are both semiconductors – like silicon – and will respond to such external magnetic fields. The latest experiment involves sandwiching bucky balls - a molecule of sixty carbon atoms arranged in a series of hexagons and pentagons just like a soccer ball – between two layers of magnetic material.
As he explains in the university’s press release here:
"The great advantage of these molecules is that they have very little effect on electron spin. This enables them to store spin information for much longer periods of time than silicon."
"If we are to make truly effective components, we will need a detailed understanding of events at the interface between the magnetic and organic materials. However, this will require improvements in the quality of such interfaces. The current techniques for applying metallic layers to organic layers do not produce good interconnections. The organic material contains cavities that can fill with metal. This results in unpredictable behaviour."
De Jong says that the grant will enable him to expand his team, and work on improving the manufacturing process, and on understanding exactly what happens at the interface.