Spin waves could make electronics one thousand times more efficient than current machines by using magnetic materials to control the passage of electrons through transistor switches. As computers become more advanced, the silicon chips that house the infinitely small switches that make up logic gates used to perform computing functions get smaller and smaller. As the chips and switches get smaller and more are squeezed closer together however, it gets harder to keep the electrons flowing where they need to without jumping to other components. As well, all those electrons running around create heat and some leak through the transistors and are lost altogether. These leaks and the heat generated are wasted energy, and researchers have been working on ways to make chips that run with as little electricity as possible to combat these losses. The newest breakthrough looks to be very promising indeed.
Researchers at UCLA found that by introducing multiferroic magnetic materials they created a switch that could be turned on or off simply by applying alternating voltage. This creates an oscillating electric field within a piezoelectric material which generates spin waves that induced along a nickel film. These steps cause power to move through the material in a wave that matches the oscillation frequency of the electromagnetic field called a spin wave bus.
The difference between using spin waves to carry electrons and letting them flow naturally is similar to the difference between a river and wave. When formed into a wave water molecules move fairly little, and the energy is carried in the wave itself. When flowing along in a river, the energy is carried in the individual water molecules themselves. By powering future devices by varying the amount of voltage used, less power is used over-all by virtue of the low voltage part of the wave, similar to how a microwave oven rapidly turns the microwave generator on and off in order to produce different levels of heat. At the same time the leaking transistor problem is solved, eliminating wasted power and allowing for the potential that spin waves could make electronics one thousand times more efficient in the future.
By reducing heat generated and power consumed, great strides are taken in increasing the longevity of devices, as well as keeping running costs down. The spin wave technology is expected to be put to use in information processing applications and data storage devices such as processors, solid state memory and hard drives. As well, the nickel and iron based materials needed for spin wave generation are more common than the silicon that is now used most often in electronic switches, meaning that future devices could feature enhanced efficiency at a lower price. The properties of the multiferroic materials used on the experiment make them particularly well suited to uses of this kind due to their ability to efficiently channel the electromagnetic waves. The idea that spin waves could make electronics one thousand times more efficient is huge for everyone involved, from manufacturers to consumers to recyclers.
By Daniel O’Brien