Scientists at Ohio State University have demonstrated a form of plastic computer memory that uses the spin of electrons to read and write data.
Credit: US Department of Energy - PNNL
The prototype spintronic device was developed using techniques found in the mainstream computer industry today. It's simply a thin strip of dark blue organic-based magnet layered with a metallic ferromagnet and connected to two electrical leads. Still, the researchers successfully recorded data on it and retrieved the data by controlling the spins of the electrons with a magnetic field.
In the journal Nature Materials, Dr. Arthur J. Epstein, a distinguished physics professor at OSU, and his colleagues described the material as a hybrid of a semiconductor that is made from organic materials and a special magnetic polymer semiconductor. It's a bridge between today’s computers and the all-polymer, spintronic computers that the researchers hope to eventually create, according to a university release.
Spintronics is an alternative to traditional microelectronics that could allow for faster and more reliable data storage and transmission while consuming less power.
Like conventional electronics, spintronics uses the flow of electronics to represent signals and logic states. But while conventional electronics depends on the electrical charge of the electron, spintronics involves polarizing the electrons to orient in particular directions. Scientists refer to this orientation as either "spin up" or "spin down" which form the two states of binary logic.
"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," Epstein said. "We could solve many of the problems facing computers today by using spintronics."
Typical circuit boards use a lot of energy and generate a lot of heat, limiting chip makers in how closely they can pack circuits together to avoid overheating.
Flipping the spin of an electron requires less energy, and produces hardly any heat at all, Epstein said. Spintronic devices could run on smaller batteries and if made out of plastic are also light and flexible.
"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," Epstein said.