The breakthrough could pave the way toward faster electronics. (Image Credit: Intralist.com/Unsplash)
Northeastern University scientists claim to have made a breakthrough quantum physics discovery that could help lead to the next generation of computers, sensors, and switches. Their findings are based on the discovery of a topological axion insulator, a unique quantum matter state that was once thought to be theoretical but now exists.
The axion insulating state was achieved by combining metals and studying their magnetoelectric response. The team produced a 2D small crystalline structure, atom by atom, composed of manganese bismuth telluride in a solid-state chip. This structure allowed them to measure the electric and magnetic properties. The team chose this material because its surface conducts electricity while the entire structure provides insulating capabilities. Strong magnetoelectric layers produce this effect, allowing topological insulators to conduct and insulate simultaneously.
Storage, transportation, and magnetic data can perform faster while exhibiting robust and energy-efficient qualities.
“The topological axion insulator has a miraculous ability that allows it to have very robust metallic or conducting electrons on its surface, even though the bulk of the material is insulating,” Arun Bansil, a physicist leading the study, says. “It had only been predicted theoretically—now it’s been realized experimentally.”
Even more exciting, this discovery could pave the way toward a new spintronic device. A spintronic relies on manipulating quantum structures through electron spin. Spin defines the electrons’ property in either an up or downstate. The electrons’ spinning behavior influences the magnetic field’s direction in a solid.
Today’s electronics use chemical batteries, but future spintronic devices could harness magnetic energy from unique materials without producing a chemical reaction, resulting in improved performance. That makes it a great candidate for future technology.
Spin batteries like these are still under development, but scientists think that topological insulators could help unlock the technology. Researchers suggest that spintronics could solve power consumption and computer operational speed, which is dependent on a battery charge.
“There is no question the next generation of electronics will need to have low-power consumption,” Bansil says. “When you discover new materials like this, that opens up the possibilities. These newer kinds of materials can help usher in entirely new technologies.”
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