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Thursday, 09 October 2008 20:44

Scientist takes a spin at better computer hard drives

A Japanese researcher is experimenting with a way to manipulate the spin of electrons in magnetized solids so as to eventually make computer memory devices that produce much less heat than conventional ones.

Fiji Saitoh, from the Department of Applied Physics and Physico-Informatics at Keio University in Yokohama, Japan, has shown that the direction of magnetization in a solid can be controlled (manipulated).

This implies that such manipulation could someday be used to make better data storage devices. An important invention in the very competitive computer industry.

In the September 25, 2008 online issue (455, 474-475, October 9, 2008 in paper form) of the journal Nature, Saitoh has published the paper “Solid-state physics: New order for Magnetism,” which summarizes his work.

Currently, hard disks and other such devices that store computer data use electric currents to run batteries. However, Saitoh and his team of researchers have found a way to, instead, use magnetic currents.

And, in a computer world where smaller is better, such miniaturization leads to overheating from excess heat produced in the process.

However, magnetic currents do not produce heat, so using them can solve the problem of overheating in such computer devices.

Page two continues.

When working with magnetized materials, electrons align their spins. Most electrons align “up” rather than “down.” (Electrons possess the property of intrinsic angular momentum (spin), with a standard half-odd integer spin value of 1/2.)

Because there are more up-spin electrons, the team predicted that these up-spin electrons would align toward the cooler side of the material when it was heated.

However, when Dr. Saitoh’s team heated one side of a magnetized nickel-iron rod, they found that the spin of electrons aligning “up” (or, in the direction of the magnetic field of the rod), instead, liked the warmth injected into the system.

Conversely, the electrons that were aligning “down” (or, against the magnetic field) did not like the warmth, but instead preferred the coolness.

In fact, the Saitoh team found a significant difference in the number of up-spin electrons than down-spin electrons.

Thus, Saitoh contends that such differences in the “up” and “down” spins of electrons of magnetic matter could someday be controlled and manipulated to produce new devices for computer chips.

Such technology is called spintronics.

Page three explains briefly spintronic technology.

And, spintronic devices may someday produce smaller, more efficient, and faster storage data devices and other technological marvels without the excess heat that today is a growing problem as such devices get smaller and smaller.

Spintronics, which means “spin transport electronics,” uses the spin of electrons, along with its magnetic moment, to produce electronic devices, components, and system that are based on the semiconductor.

Electrons have either a spin “up” (up-spin) or a spin “down (spin-down). A spintronic device uses the premise that more of one spin (say up-spin) is present then the other (say down-spin).

This manipulation of spin is accomplished by using various types of magnetic fields.

According to the Science News article “An attractive source for spintronics” (subscription required), the Saitoh team calls their “newly discovered phenomenon the spin Seebeck effect, in analogy with the thermoelectric effect discovered by physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck in the 1800s. In the thermoelectric effect, heating one side of an electrically conducting rod creates a voltage, because electrons at the warmer end become faster as they heat up and thus tend to move toward the cooler end, just like a heated gas tends to expand.”

Such a significant different in the spin of electrons within such magnetic materials could be used to produce magnetic currents in a circuit for practical applications in the storage of data in computer devices.

This article is based on the Science News article “An attractive source for spintronics.”

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