Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A new spin on silicon

03.08.2005


’Orbitronics’ could keep silicon-based computing going after today’s technology reaches its limits



For about 40 years, the semiconductor industry has been able to continually shrink the electronic components on silicon chips, packing ever more performance into computers. Now, fundamental physical limits to current technology have the industry scouring the research world for an alternative. In a paper published in the Aug. 1 online edition of Physical Review Letters (PRL), Stanford University physicists present ’’orbitronics,’’ an alternative to conventional electronics that could someday allow engineers to skirt a daunting limit while still using cheap, familiar silicon.

’’The miniaturization of the present-day chips is limited by power dissipation,’’ says Shoucheng Zhang, a professor of physics, applied physics and, by courtesy, electrical engineering, who co-authored the PRL study. ’’Up to 40 percent of the power in circuits is being lost in heat leakage,’’ which he says will eventually make miniaturization a forbidding task.


Spintronics

In recent years, the search for an alternative to conventional semiconductors has resulted in the discovery of a nanotechnology called ’’spintronics,’’ which uses a property of electrons called ’’spin’’ to produce a novel kind of current that integrated circuits can process as information. Spin refers to how an electron rotates on its axis, similar to the rotation of the Earth. In 2003, Zhang and colleagues at the University of Tokyo showed that producing and manipulating a current of aligned electron spins with an electric field would not involve any losses to heat-a technique they called spintronics.

Zhang now co-directs the IBM-Stanford Spintronic Science and Applications Center, along with Stanford electrical engineering Professor James Harris and IBM research fellow Stuart Parkin. The center, established in 2004, is investigating many applications of spintronics, including room-temperature superconductors and quantum computers.

Playing the angles

For all its potential, a drawback of spintronics is that it doesn’t work very well with lighter atoms, such as silicon, which the microelectronics industry prefers. Enter Zhang’s new research. In the PRL paper, he and graduate students B. Andrei Bernevig and Taylor L. Hughes show how, in theory, silicon could be used in a related technology they dubbed orbitronics. By using orbitronics, Zhang says, computer chip makers could get the benefits of spintronics without having to abandon silicon.

Both orbitronics and spintronics involve a physical quantity called ’’angular momentum,’’ a property of any mass that moves around a fixed position, be it a tetherball or an electron.

Like an electric current, which is the flow of negatively charged electrons in a conventional integrated circuit, an orbital current would consist of a flow of electrons with their angular momenta aligned in an orbitronic circuit. ’’If you push electrons forward with an electric field, then an orbital current will be generated perpendicular to this electric current,’’ Zhang says. ’’It will not carry charge, but will carry orbital angular momentum perpendicular to the direction in which the electrons are moving.’’

Therefore, he explains, with orbitronics, silicon would still be able to provide a useful current with no losses to heat at room temperature. Some alternative technologies require cold temperatures that are difficult and expensive to maintain, he adds.

From theory to application

The authors point out that orbitronics still has a long way to go to become an applied technology in the semiconductor industry. ’’This is so new,’’ Zhang acknowledges. ’’When something is first discovered it is hard to say. There are many difficulties in the practical world.’’

Harris agrees, noting that spintronics will likely still take decades to become a mature commercial technology. ’’It’s not going to happen immediately, even if we are incredibly successful,’’ he says.

But if orbitronics turns out to indeed be an economically feasible technology to manufacture, it will be a boon to the industry to stick with silicon, Zhang says. ’’There is a huge, huge investment in processing silicon,’’ he says. ’’We don’t want to switch overnight to a new material.’’

Mark Shwartz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.stanford.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers
21.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy
21.04.2017 | Stockholm University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>