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Magnetic domain control to lead to low-power memory

Posted: 31 May 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:magnetic domain? low-power data storage? magneto-ionic?

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has created a way of controlling the motion of magnetic domainsthe key technology in magnetic memory systems such as a computer's hard disc. According to them, the approach requires little power to write and no power to maintain the stored information, and could pave the way to a new generation of extremely low-power data storage.

The approach controls magnetism by applying a voltage, rather than a magnetic field. It could lead to magnetic storage devices in which data is written on microscopic nanowires or tracks, with magnetic "bits" of data hurtling along them like cars on a racetrack.

"For hundreds of years, if you had a magnetic material and you wanted to change the direction in which the material was magnetized, you needed another magnet," stated Geoffrey Beach, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at MIT. What's more, once the magnetic state is switched, it holds that change, providing stable data storage that requires no power except during reading and writing.

The researchers show that this effect can be used to enable new concepts such as "racetrack memory," with magnetic bits speeding along a magnetic track. While there have been laboratory demonstrations of such devices, none have come close to viability for data storage: The missing piece has been a means to precisely control the position and to electrically select individual magnetic bits racing along the magnetic track.

"Magnetic fields are very hard to localize," Beach added: If you're trying to create tiny magnetic bits on a nanowire or track, the magnetic fields from the electromagnets used to read and write data tend to spread out, making it difficult to prevent interaction with adjacent strips, especially as devices get smaller and smaller.

But the new system can precisely select individual magnetic bits represented by tiny domains in a nanowire. The MIT device can stop the movement of magnetic domains hurtling at 20m/s, or about 45mph, "on a dime," Beach said. They can then be released on demand simply by toggling the applied voltage.

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