For the first time, researchers have designed a special material interface that has been shown to add to and to improve the functioning of non-silicon-based electronic devices, such as those used in certain kinds of random access memory (RAM). According to Qi Li, a professor of physics at Penn State University and the leader of the research team, the new method could be used to design improved, more-efficient, multilevel and multifunctional devices, as well as enhanced nanoelectronic components -- such as non-volatile information storage and processing; and spintronic components -- an emerging technology that uses the natural spin of the electron to power devices. The research has been accepted for publication in the journal Nature Materials.
Li explained that most modern-day electronic chips -- integrated circuits that serve as the building blocks for semiconductor electronic devices such as solar cells, personal computers, and cell phones -- use silicon transistors to process "logical states," or the binary system of ones and zeros used by computers. This binary information is stored for fast access in RAM and also permanently in a magnetic form on hard disks. In this system, the numeral 1 can be understood as "on" -- with a current of electrons flowing freely -- and the numeral 0 as "off" -- with a current blocked. However, in recent years, Li said, researchers in laboratories across the world have been experimenting with different, non-silicon materials that "can toggle between a multilevel state system and can bring the memory into logic operation," and also function with greater speed and less power consumption than are possible with current technology.
Now, in a new research study, Li and her colleagues have designed and tested an alternative way of creating a device that is compatible with non-silicon technology and that combines into one device both an electronic and a magnetic junction. "Magnetic tunnel junctions -- which in
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