UK physicists are leading a £2.3m project that aims to produce smaller, faster computers that store information using magnetism rather than conventional electrical charges.
The scientists note that magnetism in microelectronic components – spintronics – is already used for reading high performance hard disks, like those in iPods. They aim to develop a similar device that can store information magnetically on a memory chip, instead of needing an electric charge.
Charges leak away and have to be replenished a thousand times a second, but magnetism doesn't require a power supply. It can also be used to control the flow of electrons in a component so a chip could re-configure itself in the most effective way for each calculation it handled.
Unlike the flash memory in digital cameras, spintronic memory can be written to more quickly and will not wear out. Also, it could make computers less power hungry, reducing electricity bills and carbon dioxide emissions.
The consortium is led by Professor Brian Hickey at the University of Leeds and includes Cambridge, Imperial, Durham, Glasgow, Exeter and City universities and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. It will look at new and existing ways of applying spintronics, develop new materials and push the limits of our current understanding of magnetism.
The group – [email protected] – is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and is supported by some of the world's biggest hard-drive and electronics manufacturers.
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