Revisiting magnetism for brain-like computers
01 Oct 2020
- Rosie de Laune



Back in 2012, we highlighted work done by Professor Christopher Marrows towards developing a new type of computer architecture that operates in the same way as a human brain. We got back in contact with him to speak about how his work has progressed.


​False colour images of the nanopillar devices 

Dr Mark Rosamond, School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Leeds

​Thanks to the results from his experiment at ISIS, Professor Marrows was awarded an EPSRC grant in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, which has recently come to an end. Developing the materials they had studied at ISIS, they have been able to create nanoscale pillars that can act as neuromorphic devices.

His postdoc during the ISIS experiment, Chantal Le Graët, who was first author on the paper that lead to the ISIS science highlight, has gone on to work in the materials technology industry.

Maintaining an interest in this subject, Professor Marrows has expanded his research area to include other applications of exotic magnetic materials. His current area of work includes an ISIS Facility Development Studentship position, with the aim to create thin films of magnetic skyrmions. The potential of skyrmions in future devices is broad: “They are very small and also very stable," he explains; “we can take concepts from high energy physics and apply them to magnetism."

His group had been studying these materials previously for use in magneto-optic devices; “we had no idea they had skyrmions in!" He adds; “in the last ten years, the field of skyrmions has exploded." Technology based on magnetic properties is attracting commercial attention, including the introduction of magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAM), which stores data in magnetic domains.

Professor Marrows explains that, for neuromorphic technologies to be used, there needs to be a complete change of thinking about computer architecture; “IBM's Blue Gene supercomputer can model the brain of a cat," he explains; “but it takes up a lot of space and energy. Nature has worked out how to do it on a tin of Whiskas!"

The eventual aim will be to make hardware that has a structure that can reap the benefits of neural networks. However, this will require materials with the right physics, and this is where Professor Marrows plans to continue his work; “It's one of the few areas of research where exotic physics comes so close to industrial applications."

Contact: de Laune, Rosie (STFC,RAL,ISIS)