Researchers working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated for the first time the existence of a key magnetic—as opposed to electronic—property of specially built semiconductor devices. This discovery raises hopes for even smaller and faster gadgets that could result from magnetic data storage in a semiconductor material, which could then quickly process the data through built-in logic circuits controlled by electric fields.

In a new paper, researchers from NIST, Korea University and the University of Notre Dame have confirmed theorists’ hopes that thin magnetic layers of semiconductor material could exhibit a prized property known as antiferromagnetic coupling—in which one layer spontaneously aligns its magnetic pole in the opposite direction as the next magnetic layer. The discovery of antiferromagnetic coupling in metals was the basis of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics, but it is only recently that it has become conceivable for semiconductor materials. Semiconductors with magnetic properties would not only be able to process data, but also store it.

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