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DJ Obu in Seattle @ the pacific science center
[Keio Spintronics Network - Suzuki Laboratory , Osaka University]
The Suzuki Spintronics Group in Osaka Universitys Graduate School of Engineering Science is doing research with the aim of achieving a new type of memory using the magnetic properties of iron.
Atoms consist of a nucleus and electrons, and the electrons have a magnetic property called spin as well as charge. Introducing these tiny magnets into other substances like a liquid is called spin injection, and their flow is called a spin current.
Q. If we use this spin current to make extremely small iron particles, about the same size as viruses, and let the spin flow into them, we can change the orientation of the iron magnets. They become very small memory elements. Were doing this research as a national project, together with businesses. In our research, we inject spin into not just iron, but also silicon, diamond, molecules, and a new substance called graphene, which has recently become topical.
There are various types of molecular materials, but the Suzuki Group is focusing especially on graphene and fullerene.
Q. As you can see, graphene consists entirely of carbon. Carbon is a very light element. If we put spin into such a light element, its difficult for the spin to disperse. Thats why were studying these kinds of carbon materials. Its usually difficult to obtain this effect except at extremely low temperatures, but when using grapheme weve found we can obtain the effect at room temperature.
In memory using magnets, the N and S orientations of the magnets are used as 0 and 1 in digital data. To achieve this effect, a key technology is the ability to reverse the orientation of extremely small magnets at the nanoscale, while consuming as little power as possible.
Recently, the Suzuki Group has succeeded not only with methods using spin injection, but also by making the atomic layers in metal magnets as thin as possible, and using voltage to control the direction in which the magnets tend to orient. Using this technology, its considered possible to achieve magnetic memory that consumes very little power.
Q. These memory elements are called MRAM (Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory) or spin RAM. Spin RAM works in the same way as ordinary DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory), but its nonvolatile. Because Spin RAM uses magnets, the recorded data doesnt disappear. So with these elements, the power can be switched off at any time. This can be used to achieve very energy-efficient computers. Todays computers take time to start up after theyre switched on, but with this technology, they could be switched off anytime without that happening, and started up instantly anytime. In other words, when youre using a computer, it could be switched off most of time, then run only when you touch the keyboard, and then switch off again afterwards. We think this would be a big help with energy conservation.