Case study: Neutron science for next-generation computing

Neutron scientists at ISIS are helping to advance the digital economy through research into spintronics – an emerging technology which exploits the spin of electrons as well as their charge.

  • Spintronics is an emerging technology which underpins applications in sectors as varied as healthcare, IT and automotive
  • Neutron research at ISIS is contributing to a better understanding of the fundamental physics behind spintronics
  • ISIS is helping scientists to research the behaviour of complex materials at the atomic scale
  • Researchers hope spintronics will enable the development of computer chips and devices which have more capacity but use less power

Spintronics was first used in a device twenty years ago and now underpins applications as diverse as biosensors for blood screening, computer memory and safety systems for cars.

Neutron scattering is contributing to a better understanding of the fundamental physics behind spintronics. ISIS researchers are supporting global efforts to exploit the potential of spintronics in smaller and faster devices with more capacity and lower power consumption.

A team of UK universities and companies, including Seagate and Hitachi, is researching the behaviour of complex materials at the atomic scale. Many of the most promising materials, which industry hopes to deploy in future devices, only work under extreme conditions such as low temperatures and in large magnetic fields.

 “If we can understand the complex physics of these materials then perhaps we can get them to work at room temperature,” says team member Prof Sean Langridge, an ISIS neutron researcher.

“There is the prospect of exploiting spintronics for a powerful new generation of applications such as computer chips which can both process and store information,” says Langridge.

Neutron scattering enables a layer by layer understanding of the chemical and magnetic structure of materials at the nanoscale. This information can be combined with theoretical studies to connect the fundamental physics of materials with their actual behaviour.

S. Langridge

Research date: January 2006

Further Information

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