All of our electronics work on the basis of bringing electrical charge carriers to the right location. Electrons move through computer chips, they store the information in our flash drives, and they carry signals from the processor to the hard drive. But this is all going to change: magnetic storage is expected to shape the future of IT. At TU Wien, research has been being carried out in this area with great success, and now the new Christian Doppler Laboratory is being opened on 12 November 2018, which will deal with developing magnetic storage technologies. This is being supported by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs, and by the industry partner Silvaco.
"The fact that memory components are constantly becoming smaller and smaller has always been one of the driving forces behind digitization," says Dr. Margarete Schramböck, Federal Minister for Digital and Economic Affairs. "Now conventional technologies are reaching the limits of miniaturization and new ideas are required. The new CD lab will make an important contribution by exploring the foundations of possible alternatives and harnessing the new knowledge for businesses."
It all comes down to particle spin
The fact that, in quantum physics, a particle not only has an electrical charge but also another important property, namely spin, is key for new storage technologies. Spin is the intrinsic angular momentum of the particle, and it can be imagined similarly to the angular momentum of a ball that is rotating about its own axis.
“The spin is closely linked to magnetism, and it can be influenced by magnetic fields,” says Dr Viktor Sverdlov from the Institute for Microelectronics at TU Wien, who’s heading the new Christian Doppler Laboratory. “Similarly to the way in which information can be stored by placing different electrical charges at certain points, information can also be stored by means of different spin projections”
Quicker and more reliable
This has distinct advantages: currently, the memory of a computer has to be refreshed a hundred times per second to ensure that information is not lost, which is known as a ‘memory refresh’. Therefore, power is continuously required to maintain the stored content. In a spin-based, magnetic storage system information is preserved without power, and the memory refresh is not needed. “In addition to saving power, non-volatility can have positive effects on the speed of the devices,” says Viktor Sverdlov. “For example, it is not necessary to boot a computer to recover its set of configuration parameters every time after the power was turned off as all the settings were preserved and one can continue the interrupted work immediately.”
Similarly, spin-based memory is superior to currently available long-term storage systems, which we carry around with us in our pockets. Although conventional USB flash drives can store information for a relatively long time without any power input, spin-based systems provide higher endurance, better reliability and faster speed.
Complex computer simulations
Viktor Sverdlov and his team are developing computer software that can answer important questions about these new technologies. Computer models of electronic components are simulated, tested and improved, the interactions of spins and magnetic fields are investigated in detail for various materials on length scales of only a few nanometers. "We already have a lot of expertise in this field. Together with our industrial partner Silvaco, we will make an important step forward in the research on stable magnetic storage technologies, "says Viktor Sverdlov.
About Christian Doppler Laboratories
In Christian Doppler Laboratories, application-oriented basic research is pursued at a high level, and expert scientists cooperate with innovative companies. The Christian Doppler Research Association is an international best practice example for promoting this collaboration.
Christian Doppler Laboratories are financed jointly by the public purse and the participating companies. The most important public sponsor is the Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs (BMDW).
Dr. Viktor Sverdlov
Institute for Microelectronics
Gußhausstraße 25-29, 1040 Vienna