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Milestone Could Help Magnets End Era of Computer Transistors

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Current passing through a strip of tantalum makes electrons with opposite spins seperate.

As current passes through a strip of tantalum, electrons with opposite spins separate. Researchers used the resulting polarization to create a nanomagnetic switch that could one day replace computer transistors.

Credit: Debanjan Bhowmik/UC Berkeley

Magnetic switches could one day replace conventional transistors at the core of modern electronics, say researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Although researchers have been studying magnets for more than a decade as an alternative to transistors because they require far less energy when switching, the power needed to generate the necessary magnetic fields has negated much of the energy savings that would have been gained by moving away from transistors. However, Berkeley researchers say they have solved this problem by exploiting the special properties of tantalum.

The researchers created a Spin Hall effect by using nanomagnets placed on top of tantalum wire and then sending a current through the metal. When the current is sent through tantalum's atomic core, the metal's physical properties sort the electrons to opposing sides based on their direction of spin, creating the polarization needed to switch magnets in a logic circuit without the need for a magnetic field.

"This is a breakthrough in the push for low-powered computing," says Berkeley professor Sayeef Salahuddin. "The power consumption we are seeing is up to 10,000 times lower than state-of-the-art schemes for nanomagnetic computing."

From UC Berkeley NewsCenter
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