IBM claims spintronics breakthrough

IBM researchers are claiming a breakthrough in the development of spintronics based memory and storage devices.

Scientists at the IBM Research and the Solid State Physics Laboratory at ETH Zurich have succeeded in extending the ‘spin’ lifetime of electrons, opening the door for higher capcity and increased efficiency spintronics-based devices.

With spintronics, electron spins can be used to represent data, with a shift in orientation corresponding to either a one or a zero dictated by a magnetic field.  This differs from current methods which rely on the electrical charge of the electrons.

Keeping information encoded in the spin of an electron has been difficult, but the ETH researchers have succeeded in extending the spin lifetime of an electron by 30 fold. This means an increase to 1.1 nanoseconds, which is the same amount of time it takes for a 1GHz processor to cycle.

The scientists were able to do this by locking the electrons into a ‘persistent spin helix’, allowing them to monitor a regular pattern of movement, rather than the erratic spin that would usuallybe observed.   By following the waltz-like movement of the electrons using ultra short lasers it was possible to track the spin of the electron for longer, which the researchers say is a big step towards an electronically programmable spin-based transistor.

Devices using spintronics are still a long way off. Various firms such as Hitachi have also been developing spintronics technology, but there are stumbling blocks. Researchers have had some success with spintronics at room temperature, the IBM researchers were  unable to perform the extended spin tracking at higher temperatures. In this case, the research was only possible at 40 Kelvin, a rather chilly -233 degrees celcius.