Rare material key to computer advances

Jun 19, 2014

Researchers from Victoria University of Wellington have answered fundamental questions about a rare class of materials that could lead to faster, more reliable memory storage in computers.

Dr Ben Ruck, Professor Joe Trodahl and Dr Franck Natali from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, have spent several years understanding the properties of rare-earth nitrides (RENs), thin films grown under ultra-high vacuum which are both magnetic and semiconducting.

The team is one of only a few worldwide exploring commercial applications of RENs, with two concepts already patented. They include developing the first magnetic storage devices based on RENs, called magnetic tunnel junctions.

A computer has two types of memory, a hard disk drive coated with magnetic material, and random-access memory (RAM) that stores data electrically, explains Dr Ruck. The issue with RAM is that it does not retain information when the host computer turns off.

"What we're working on is a magnetic type of RAM that doesn't disappear. Because data is retained when the power is switched off, a device can perform faster, be more versatile and use less energy. This is ideal, as an example, for cloud data storage spanning across multiple servers," says Dr Ruck.

In collaboration with a team of researchers in France, based at the Centre for Research on Hetero-Epitaxy and Applications, which has facilities to grow pure versions of RENs, Dr Ruck and his colleagues are also in the process of testing a new way to control how RENs use electricity.

"No one has made a magnetic semi-conductor where you can truly control the electrical conductivity. Our results provide a new way to control conduction precisely, meaning you can swap a device from being magnetic to non-magnetic, surpassing existing electronics regarding speed and power consumption."

This is a significant breakthrough for developing and constructing spintronics devices, an emerging technology where the spin of an electron is controlled to manipulate its charge.

Explore further: Researchers create nanoscale structure for computer chips that could yield higher-performance memory

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Data storage: Electrically enhanced recall

Dec 05, 2012

Random-access memory (RAM) is a fast electronic device used in computers to temporarily store data. Traditional RAM is based on the flow of electrical current for data processing. To make RAM faster, more ...

Controlling magnetism with an electric field

Feb 18, 2014

There is a big effort in industry to produce electrical devices with more and faster memory and logic. Magnetic memory elements, such as in a hard drive, and in the future in what is called MRAM (magnetic random access memory), ...

Recommended for you

Cooling with molecules

25 minutes ago

An international team of scientists have become the first ever researchers to successfully reach temperatures below minus 272.15 degrees Celsius – only just above absolute zero – using magnetic molecules. ...

A 'Star Wars' laser bullet

1 hour ago

Action-packed science-fiction movies often feature colourful laser bolts. But what would a real laser missile look like during flight, if we could only make it out? How would it illuminate its surroundings? ...

User comments : 0