Argonne National Laboratory
March 29, 2021
As computers and electronic devices get smaller and smaller, engineers are developing new technologies to enable devices to shrink even further while improving performance. One promising new technology is spintronics, which has the potential to make smaller and faster devices that retain their information when the power is off. This emerging technology could revolutionize the design of electronic devices, but it still has a long way to go before the technology becomes mainstream.
To keep up with increasing data generation, data storage capacity has increased while electronic devices continue to get smaller and more powerful. However, this increase in data generation and storage has led to an associated increase in energy consumption. Data centers use a significant amount of electricity for their servers and cooling systems, and those centers alone account for more than 1% of global energy use. Spintronics has the potential to cut this energy consumption while allowing engineers to continue to design smaller and faster computers and other electronic devices.
Instead of using electron charge to store information as 1’s and 0’s, spintronics uses electron spin to encode data. Spin is a property of electrons, just like charge. Electrons can have a spin state that is either up or down, and in some special materials this spin state can move across the material when it’s exposed to electricity. The ability for the spin state to be transported is what allows spin to be used for data storage. This method of spin manipulation for data storage uses much less energy because a spin current encounters less of the resistance that can lead to overheating, and the information does not disappear with a loss of power.
Researchers using the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, have been studying ways to manipulate electron spins and developing new materials for spintronics. Recently, a research team led by Chang-Beom Eom, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, published a study in the journal Nature Communications about a new material that has three times the storage density and uses much less power than other spintronics devices.