From the University of Kansas comes a breakthrough in spintronics - a new way to store and read computerized data.
"Spintronics" is the study of spin-based electronics, which by itself doesn't really tell you that much. Basically, spintronic research is focused on using the direction and speed of spin of particles - most notably the electron, to store and transfer data.
Currently, computers use 30 to 50 nanometer sized devices to move data around, but while we can make them smaller, there is a fundamental limit to just how many atoms we can cram onto these things. While the charge of the electron has been used for years as a method of determining if a circuit is in a "0" or "1" state, it takes multiple charges on our nanometer circuits for this information to be conveyed.
Spintronics looks at using the spin of an electron - which can spin either clockwise or counterclockwise and at a fixed speed - to represent the binary states. One direction of rotation would be "1" and the other "0", meaning that a single electron could take the place of the multiple-atom devices being used currently, effectively removing the size barrier.
The problem in spintronics until now has been measuring the spin direction and speed of the electrons in real time, but KU researchers Hui Zhao and Lalani Werake have come up with a way to make this process a great deal less cumbersome. Zhao describes current electron spin analysis as "analyzing still photographs to determine a car’s speed, long after the car has sped away". His new method would operate more like a police radar gun, he says, measuring the speed of a car as it passes.
It works by shining a laser beam on a semiconductor. If the electrons present are spinning and flowing, a new color of light is created, and the brightness of that light is related to the spin speed of the electron. Better still, this type of measurement can be done without altering the state or charge of an electron, important if any technology hopes to be built around it.
The Lab: Where Dr. Zhao creates his laser-y goodness.
While spintronics is still in its infancy, this discovery paves a potential path for the utilization of single-electron binary states, which could make the computers of everyone's favorite Star Trek movie and beyond a real possibility.
They just need to spin this discovery the right way and they'll be number 1.
Binary jokes, electron humor - we do it all.
Source: University of Kansas