A Miracle Material for Spintronics

A team lead by the University of Utah has discovered a new group of materials called organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites that could bring spintronics from a largely conceptual concept into reality. Spintronics aims to use the magnetic properties of electrons rather then their ability to conduct electricity to store and transmit information. Instead of using the ebb and flow of electrical current (charge, recorded using ones and zeros) through thousands of electrons, spintronics uses the 'up' or 'down' orientation of far fewer electrons.

Changing the spin of electrons. Image Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

The problem spintronics has encountered is that a material could not be found that could have its spin changed easily and retain the change in spin. Sarah Li, assistant professor of the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Utah and lead author of the study, told Newswise that what makes this discovery special is that the material "can be manipulated and, at the same time, have a long spin lifetime.”

The electrons in perovskites can be changed many times within a nanosecond, meaning they can have lots of information imparted and altered in them. This was surprising, as perovskites are a heavy metal, which usually has good spin alterability, but a bad spin lifetime.

Smaller, Faster, Stronger

Spintronic materials can be used to process much more information than classical materials that use charge because they can operate more reliably on a smaller scale. Although Moore's Law states that transistors (which control the current) per square inch in integrated circuits approximately double every year, we are currently approaching the limit. Li says, "The silicon technology, based only on the electron charge, is reaching its size-limit. The size of the wire is already small. If gets any smaller, it’s not going to work in a classical way that you think of."

Spintronics could, therefore, allow data to be processed faster and increase random-access memory (RAM, which allows you access the specific pieces of information you want on computers and phones). This would have the effect of increasing the efficiency, speed, and memory capacity of nearly all computational devices, which would use less power and increase battery life. Finally, materials that spintronics use don't emit an external magnetic field, even though they use magnetism on an atomic level; this means that they do not interfere with other devices and should make it harder for them to be spied on.

If mass production is possible, spintronics could mark the end of the silicon transistor age.

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