(via IBM, ETH Zurich & Nature)
IBM and ETH Zurich have taken a critical step towards bringing us spintronics. Current computing technology uses charge of electrons to encode and process data. Spintronics is a computing technology that uses the spin of an electron to store, transfer, and process information. If successful, spintronics would create a new class of semiconductor transistors which would result in much more energy efficient computing products.
Up until recently, scientists and researchers were not sure if spintronics could actually work. The theory was originally proposed in 2003 when scientist set out trying to observe electron spins arrange into a stripe pattern called the spin helix. By synchronizing electron spins into the spin helix, it extends the length of time the electron will spin by 30 times. As a result, the lifetime of the spins will last 1.1 nanoseconds or the same amount of time it takes for a 1GHz processor to complete a full cycle.
To complete this task, ultra short laser pulses were used by the IBM scientists to monitor the thousands of electron spins created simultaneously in a very small area. In addition, ETH Zurich scientists created the material used for the semiconductor, gallium arsenide. Together they have made giant leap, getting the electrons to spin long enough to transfer data. However, much more work and research is still needed before spintronics can be used in a consumer product. Researchers worked at temperatures of 40 Kelvin, or -387F to make this first step. Until transistors can be produced that run at normal household temperatures, spintronics is going to have to remain in the lab.