A new spin on semiconductors

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have come up with a new magnetic semiconductor material that could one day lead to dramatically smaller and more powerful electronic devices.

The new material -- indium oxide with a splash of chromium -- falls into the category of spin-based electronics, or spintronics, in which the spin state of electrons is used to carry, manipulate and store data.

Popular devices such as iPods and laptops already use spintronics in their magnetic hard drives, but simply to store information. The breakthrough announced by researchers at MIT's Francis Bitter Magnet Lab involves using the direction of the spin (up or down) to provide an additional level of processing power. Conventional circuits only use the charge state (on or off) of an electron.

"We can carry information in two ways at once, and this will allow us to further reduce the size of electronic circuits," researcher, Jagadeesh Moodera, said. The way it would work is that the new magnetic material would sit on top of a conventional silicon chip, injecting electronics of a given spin orientation into the chip. The electrons would then be read by a spin detector at the other end of the circuit.

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