Spintronics – the pioneering new technology, wherein both the charge and spin of an electron is used to carry information – is generating great excitement in the world of technology for its immense potential in a wide variety of applications.
“The first applications of spintronics having been demonstrated, there is tremendous interest in the development of the next spintronics device coupled with the hope that it could foster a new revolution,” remarks Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Sivakumar Muthuramalingam.
Spintronics truly gained traction with the discovery of giant magnetoresistance (GMR) in the 1980s. One of the earliest spin phenomena studied extensively, GMR leads the way toward the commercialization of spintronics with GMR sensors holding a bulk of the market share in commercial hard disk drives.
Perhaps spintronics’ biggest potential lies in embedded memories. Nonvolatile memory devices such as magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM) will revolutionize the memory market and contribute to the development of sophisticated and versatile computing and personal devices. Promising to introduce innovations such as instantly bootable computers, MRAM looks poised for resounding success.
MRAM already attracts considerable funding from organizations such as the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that enables private industry to conduct research into MRAM’s substantial potential.
However, spintronics research is still in its early stages and faces several challenges, most notably handling-related issues. Since spintronic devices use magnetism and employ materials such as nickel, iron, cobalt, and their alloys not commonly used in normal semiconductor electronics, there are difficulties in etching and patterning as well as in integrating the magnetic material into a silicon process for manufacturing MRAMs.
“The behavior of the magnetic element on a chip in both read and write modes could be quite a hurdle,” says Muthuramalingam. “Researchers have to discover, fix and understand them to make MRAMs reliable.”
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the future possibilities for spintronics are many and varied. Already, almost 95% of all hard disks manufactured today are fitted with GMR heads. Industry interest in spintronics is rapidly increasing and many spin-based devices will hit the market in the next three to five years, with MRAM expected as early as 2006.
“Other prospective and exciting applications include the use of spintronics in quantum computation and the possible development of the first ever quantum computer,” notes Muthuramalingam. “Revolutionary spin transistors are also on the cards and could well challenge the monopoly of semiconductor electronics.”
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Source: Frost & Sullivan
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