Breakthrough in magnetic devices could make computers much more powerful

Dec 06, 2006

Scientists have created novel ‘spintronic’ devices that could point the way for the next generation of more powerful and permanent data storage chips in computers. Physicist at the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Leeds have discovered a way to precisely control the pattern of magnetic fields in thin magnetic films, which can be used to store information.

The discovery has important consequences for the IT industry, as current technology memory storage has limited scope for develop further. The density with which information can be stored magnetically in permanent memory - hard drives - is reaching a natural limit related to the size of the magnetic particles used. The much faster silicon-chip based random access memory - RAM - in computers loses the information stored when the power is switched off.

The key advance of the recent research has been in developing ways to use high energy beams of gallium ions to artificially control the direction of the magnetic field in regions of cobalt films just a few atoms thick.

The direction of the field can be used to store information: in this case “up” or “down” correspond to the “1” or “0” that form the basis of binary information storage in computers.

Further, the physicists have demonstrated that the direction of these magnetic areas can be “read” by measuring their electrical resistance. This can be done much faster than the system for reading information on current hard drives. They propose that the magnetic state can be switched from “up” to “down” with a short pulse of electrical current, thereby fulfilling all the requirements for a fast magnetic memory cell.

Using the new technology, computers will never lose memory even during a power cut – as soon as the power is restored, the data will reappear.

Professor Simon Bending, of the University of Bath's Department of Physics, said: “The results are important as they suggest a new route for developing high density magnetic memory chips which will not lose information when the power is switched off. For the first time data will be written and read very fast using only electrical currents.”

“We’re particularly pleased as we were told in the beginning that our approach probably would not work, but we persevered and now it has definitely paid off.”

Professor Bending worked with Dr Simon Crampin, Atif Aziz and Hywel Roberts in Bath, Dr Peter Heard of the University of Bristol and Dr Chris Marrows of the University of Leeds.

Another approach to overcoming the problem of storing data permanently with rapid retrieval times is that of magnetic random access memory chips (MRAMs); prototypes of these have already been developed by several companies. However, MRAM uses the stray magnetic fields generated by wires that carry a high electrical current to switch the data state from “up” to “down”, which greatly limits the density of information storage.

In contrast, if the approach at Bath is developed commercially, this would allow the manufacture of magnetic memory chips with much higher packing densities, which can operate many times faster.

A paper written by the researchers appeared recently in the journal Physical Review Letters, entitled: Angular Dependence of Domain Wall Resistivity in Artificial Magnetic Domain Structures.

Source: University of Bath

Explore further: Team invents microscopic sonic screwdriver

Related Stories

'Supercool' material glows when you write on it

May 13, 2015

A new material developed at the University of Michigan stays liquid more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit below its expected freezing point, but a light touch can cause it to form yellow crystals that glow under ...

Researchers exploring spintronics in graphene

May 06, 2015

Electronics is based on the manipulation of electrons and other charge carriers, but in addition to charge, electrons possess a property known as spin. When spin is manipulated with magnetic and electric ...

Human brain inspires computer memory

Apr 28, 2015

How is it possible to create computer memory that is both faster and consumes less energy? Researchers at the Institut d'électronique fondamentale (CNRS/Université Paris-Sud) and CEA-List have unlocked ...

Heat makes electrons spin in magnetic superconductors

Apr 24, 2015

Physicists have shown how heat can be exploited for controlling magnetic properties of matter. The finding helps in the development of more efficient mass memories. The result was published yesterday in Physical Review Le ...

Recommended for you

Researchers prove magnetism can control heat, sound

19 hours ago

Phonons—the elemental particles that transmit both heat and sound—have magnetic properties, according to a landmark study supported by Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) services and recently published by ...

How researchers listen for gravitational waves

May 28, 2015

A century ago, Albert Einstein postulated the existence of gravitational waves in his General Theory of Relativity. But until now, these distortions of space-time have remained stubbornly hidden from direct ...

What's fair?: New theory on income inequality

May 27, 2015

The increasing inequality in income and wealth in recent years, together with excessive pay packages of CEOs in the U.S. and abroad, is of growing concern, especially to policy makers. Income inequality was ...

Scientists one step closer to mimicking gamma-ray bursts

May 27, 2015

Using ever more energetic lasers, Lawrence Livermore researchers have produced a record high number of electron-positron pairs, opening exciting opportunities to study extreme astrophysical processes, such ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.