Are We On the Cusp of Dramatically More Efficient Computing?

By Timothy B. Hurst in Earth & Industry, January 20 2010

There have been several quiet revolutions in the history of the computer chip industry, but as news filtered out of the scientific world of materials science this summer, we learned that we may just be on the cusp of a revolution that could not only have a dramatic effect on superconducter speed, it could make silicon wafers a thing of the past.

Physicists at DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have confirmed the existence of a type of material that could one day provide dramatically faster, more efficient computer chips. And some companies are betting that bismuth telluride (Bi2Te3) could even become the bedrock of an entirely new kind of computing industry — one based on “spintronics“. Spintronic devices use the spin, rather than the charge, of materials to store information.

Theoretical and experimental physicists led by Yulin Chen and Zhi-Xun Shen at the Stanford Institute for Materials & Energy Science tested the behavior of electrons in the compound bismuth telluride. The results, published in June at Science Express, show a clear signature of a material that enables the free flow of electrons across its surface with no loss of energy.

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