'Spintronics' Generating Excitement In Tech World

The new science of electron spin promises innovations including instantly bootable computers.
BANGALORE, India — Spintronics — the new technology wherein both the charge and spin of an electron is used to carry information — is generating much excitement in the technology world for its potential in a wide range of applications.

"The first applications of spintronics having been demonstrated, there is tremendous interest in the development of the next spintronics device, coupled with the hope that it could foster a new revolution," a report by Frost & Sullivan analyst Sivakumar Muthuramalingam said.

Spintronics biggest potential lies in embedded memories and non-volatile memory devices such as magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM), which Muthuramalingam said will revolutionize the memory market and aid the development of sophisticated and versatile computing and personal devices. Promising to introduce innovations such as instantly bootable computers, MRAM looks poised for resounding success, he said.

But research in spintronics faces several challenges, especially handling-related issues. Because spintronic devices use magnetism and materials such as nickel, iron, cobalt — with alloys not commonly used in normal semiconductor electronics — there are difficulties in etching and patterning as well as in integrating the magnetic material into a silicon process for manufacturing MRAMs.

"The behavior of the magnetic element on a chip in both read and write modes could be quite a hurdle. Researchers have to discover, fix and understand them to make MRAMs reliable”, Muthuramalingam said.

Industry interest in spintronics is rising fast and many spin-based devices will hit the market in the next three to five years, with MRAM expected as early as 2006. Other applications include the use of spintronics in quantum computation and the possible development of the first ever quantum computer. Revolutionary spin transistors are also on the cards and could well challenge the monopoly of semiconductor electronics, Muthuramalingam added.