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'Spintronic' computing gets closer with laser 'lectron discovery

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Boffins in Kansas report that they have made a breakthrough in "spintronics" - the postulated future technology which might replace today's conventional electronics and allow much more powerful IT hardware.

As the name suggests, spintronics uses the spin of an electron to store information rather than its charge. If it can be made practical, this should offer a lot more performance for less energy used.

“We have been using the charge of the electron for several decades,” says physics prof Hui Zhao of the Kansas University Ultrafast Laser Lab (KUULL). “But right now the size of each device is just 30 to 50 nanometers, and you don’t have many atoms remaining on that tiny scale. We can’t continue that way anymore because we’re hitting a fundamental limit.”

The problem facing spintronicists, however, has been that it's quite difficult to detect what spin state an electron is in. This is where Zhao and his colleague Lalani Werake have done some beezer boffinry at the KUULL. According to a statement issued yesterday by KU:

The KU researchers have discovered that shining a laser beam on a piece of semiconductor generates different color lights if the spinning electrons are flowing, and the brightness of the new light is related to the strength of the spin current.

The optical effect, known as “second-harmonic generation,” can monitor spin-current in real time without altering the current itself.

“Spintronics is still in the research phase, and we hope that this new technology can be used in labs to look at problems that interest researchers,” says Zhao. “As spintronics become industrialized, we expect this could become a routine technique.”

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