In the 1960s, Henry Moore observed that it took around 18 months for silicon chip manufacturers to shrink their technology and fit twice as many transistors into the same area of silicon.
But Moore's Law is beginning to lose its hold. According to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), devices based on silicon-only technology will soon reach the limits of miniaturisation and power efficiency.
Chip designers and manufacturers are looking for new materials and techniques that will drive forward a new era of electronic devices and applications. An EU-funded project called MAGLOG has demonstrated for the first time the possibility of producing processors from ferromagnetic materials that are faster, smaller and more efficient than conventional silicon chips.
More than 150 years ago, Lord Kelvin found that the electrical resistance of iron changed when it was in an external magnet field, and that the change depended on the direction of the field.
This magnetoresistance effect was very small, but in 1988 Peter Grünberg and Albert Fert – joint Nobel Prize for Physics winners in 2007 – independently developed materials which exhibited much larger magnetoresistance. Their work spawned a new field of science, magnetoelectronics, or spintronics, which promises significant advances in IT and computing.
Magnetoelectronics exploit the magnetic properties or spin of electrons as well as their charge. In the presence of a magnetic field the electrons may point ‘left’ or ‘right’, which can represent bits of data, such as the binary digits 0 and 1.
MAGLOG brought together leaders in the field of magnetoelectronics to adapt the technology not just for data storage and memory, but also for computation. The project partners describe it as “memory that can think”.
The input signals at each magnetic logic gate change the magnetisation of physical structures within the cell. The magnetic field affects the electrical resistance of the structures which can be measured with a readout of ‘True’ or ‘False’, or in binary a 1 or 0.
“The main goal of MAGLOG was to show that magnetic logic gates could be produced on a conventional complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) platform,” says the project coordinator Guenter Reiss. “For successful commercialisation, it is critical that this novel method of data processing can be integrated into conventional chip technologies.”Swift thinking
This switching between two states depends on input signals and thereby enables logical operations to be performed. Cells fabricated in this way use no silicon and require no multilayer processing – they can be manufactured at very low cost on flexible materials.
Another successful production approach for magnetic logic gates remains confined to high-performance computing applications that require low power consumption, for instance battery operated devices such as mobile phones.
This form of magnetic logic gate uses structures called magnetic tunnelling junctions. Each junction is manufactured from alternating layers of ferromagnetic materials and insulators. This type of gate is programmable – it is possible to change the operator within the logic gate, for example switching an ‘and’ gate to an ‘or’ function.
“The industry is crying out for reconfigurable computing to make microprocessors more efficient,” says Reiss. “We have one of the best demonstrations of reprogramming logic gates ‘on the fly’ and could enhance the performance of a central processing unit by a factor of 10 to 100.”
Magnetic logic has other advantages over conventional microprocessors. First, such processors are ‘non-volatile’, meaning that they retain their output state even when the current is switched off.
“When you switch it on again, you are exactly where you were when the power went off,” says Reiss. “This could greatly reduce or avoid the need for booting up, which can take a long time, especially with small devices that have to load a lot of information from memory.”
Magnetoelectronic components generally consume less power than their conventional counterparts, but the non-volatility can help chips cut their consumption to the bare minimum by temporarily shutting down zones that are not in use.Attractive market
Although MAGLOG has now ended, the partners continue to work together to bring about the birth of this next-generation microprocessor technology.
Ingenia Technology, a spin-off company from project partner Imperial College, is investigating applications for domain wall structures, such as intelligent smart cards. The cards would be able to perform a degree of data processing within the smart card's chip. This in-built ‘intelligence’ provides the card with an additional layer of security.
The partners also hope to enter the market for the application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC) typically found in mobile phones. These are chips designed for a specific application and often customised for individual customers, making them expensive.
The programmability of magnetic tunnelling junction logic gates could also allow chip designers to manufacture generic chips that are then customised through logic gate programming.
“From a generic ASIC chip you could configure it with its unique identity,” says Reiss. “We know of a project in Japan and IBM are working on this, but this is a market with huge potential. There's a tremendous need for smaller chip dimensions and less power consumption, and we think that chips with magnetic logic are the answer.”
MAGLOG received funding from the EU's Sixth Framework Programme for research.
Christian Nielsen | alfa
Non-invasive view into the heart
24.06.2019 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
New imaging modality targets cholesterol in arterial plaque
14.06.2019 | SPIE--International Society for Optics and Photonics
From June 25th to 27th 2019, the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT in Ilmenau (Germany) will be presenting a new solution for acoustic quality inspection allowing contact-free, non-destructive testing of manufactured parts and components. The method which has reached Technology Readiness Level 6 already, is currently being successfully tested in practical use together with a number of industrial partners.
Reducing machine downtime, manufacturing defects, and excessive scrap
The quality of additively manufactured components depends not only on the manufacturing process, but also on the inline process control. The process control ensures a reliable coating process because it detects deviations from the target geometry immediately. At LASER World of PHOTONICS 2019, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be demonstrating how well bi-directional sensor technology can already be used for Laser Material Deposition (LMD) in combination with commercial optics at booth A2.431.
Fraunhofer ILT has been developing optical sensor technology specifically for production measurement technology for around 10 years. In particular, its »bd-1«...
The well-known representation of chemical elements is just one example of how objects can be arranged and classified
The periodic table of elements that most chemistry books depict is only one special case. This tabular overview of the chemical elements, which goes back to...
Light can be used not only to measure materials’ properties, but also to change them. Especially interesting are those cases in which the function of a material can be modified, such as its ability to conduct electricity or to store information in its magnetic state. A team led by Andrea Cavalleri from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg used terahertz frequency light pulses to transform a non-ferroelectric material into a ferroelectric one.
Ferroelectricity is a state in which the constituent lattice “looks” in one specific direction, forming a macroscopic electrical polarisation. The ability to...
Researchers at TU Graz calculate the most accurate gravity field determination of the Earth using 1.16 billion satellite measurements. This yields valuable knowledge for climate research.
The Earth’s gravity fluctuates from place to place. Geodesists use this phenomenon to observe geodynamic and climatological processes. Using...
24.06.2019 | Event News
29.04.2019 | Event News
17.04.2019 | Event News
25.06.2019 | Architecture and Construction
25.06.2019 | Life Sciences
25.06.2019 | Power and Electrical Engineering