Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have published research findings that could result in a new generation of ultra low power microchips.
The researchers have demonstrated a new way to control magnetic properties in materials by applying a small voltage to a layered thin-film of cobalt, gold and platinum.
Silicon microchips are reaching the upper limit of their capabilities and physical limitations, which is resulting in a restriction to how far we can increase their computing power while also reducing energy consumption.
The new findings are based on the field of “spintronics”, which investigates the spin properties of electrons.
What is Spintronics?
Spintronic devices hold onto their magnetic properties in the absence of a constant power source, something that traditional silicon memory chips still require. As they do not need a constant power source spintronic devices can operate at an ultra-low power level. These device also produce significantly less heat than traditional memory chips.
The issue with Spintronic devices to date has been that there was no easy way to quickly control the magnetic properties of the material electrically.
Spintronic devices store information and data within the orientation of the poles of the magnet. Using the new technique developed by MIT it is now possible to quickly erase and rewrite date bits stored in spintronic devices by rapidly changing the orientation of the magnet.
The new technique involves sending hydrogen ions through the crystalline structure of the spintronic device causing the magnetic orientation of the material to change.
MIT Graduate student Aik Jun Tan commented in a blog post that: “When you pump hydrogen toward the magnet, the magnetization rotates. You can actually toggle the direction of the magnetization by 90 degrees by applying a voltage — and it’s fully reversible.”
Previously researchers had attempted this with oxygen ions, however these were too large and resulted in damage been caused to the material. Using smaller hydrogen ions MIT found that no degradation was caused in the material over the course of 2,000 cycles.
“This is really a significant breakthrough,” commented Chris Leighton University Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Minnesota in a MIT blog post.
“Using hydrogen insertion to control magnetism is not new, but being able to do that in a voltage-driven way, in a solid-state device, with good impact on the magnetic properties — that is pretty significant!”
“At the end of the day, controlling any type of materials function by literally flipping a switch is pretty exciting. Being able to do that quickly enough, over enough cycles, in a general way, would be a fantastic advance for science and engineering.”
The researcher paper was published in the journal Nature Materials by Geoffrey Beach, a professor of materials science and engineering and co-director of the MIT Materials Research Laboratory.