Spintronics is an advancing technology that exploits the magnetic spin of an electron, a quantum property, which is applied to the functionality of solid-state devices. Several devices have already implemented this technique to improve their operation, such as the read head of GMR hard drives that are able to detect miniscule magnetic field changes for quicker data access. This emerging tech has now been taken to a new level by a team of scientists at the University of Cambridge who have created the world’s first 3D microchip.
Concept art. Data stored in every direction, true 3D storage. (via University of Cambridge)
Currently, microchips are limited to one layer of compact data that is passed along through the movement of electrons either back and forth, or side to side. Spintronics takes advantage of the magnetic moment, or spin, of the electron rather than its movement across a surface. By controlling the quantum spin state of electrons with a magnetic field rather than their movement through varying electric charges, data can be transferred through the polarization of neighboring electrons.
The researchers at Cambridge achieved this by sandwiching a layer of ruthenium atoms between a layer of platinum and cobalt on either side. Ruthenium atoms act as messengers transmitting information up and down between the few atoms thick layers of platinum and cobalt. Using a laser technique called MOKE, they were able to observe the data moving up and down the sandwich “steps” as they switched a small magnetic field on and off.
This technology has already proven to be highly effective and with this recent discovery, is proving to be a clear route toward quantum computing. 3D microchips would vastly improve the data capacity of current microchips by spreading information throughout several layers rather than only one. It has also been claimed that spintronic memory possesses the non-volatility of flash memory, the speed of SRAM, and the density of DRAM. The superposition of the electron’s spin state provides the ability to store data in every one of its possible spherical orientation - that is pretty close to infinite.
From 2D to 3D data storage, the computing world takes baby steps toward a boundless world of possibility.