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Rethinking the Electron

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted January 20, 2006

You've been reading Wealth Daily for quite some time now. It's nothing new to you that we keep you up to date with the latest in technology, energy, and every other area where the cutting edge will determine who profits and who doesn't.

We've talked about Functional Integration -- the idea that consumer items can no longer operate on a one-to-one basis. A phone cannot just be a phone. It has to be a text message module, a video game device, a camera, and much more.

In Quantum Investor , you read about materials, in Green Chip Stocks you read about novel ways of conserving those materials and cutting costs by a bundle. Now, I want to tell you about how the world is getting smaller not only through international trade and globalization, but in the everyday functions of computers, whose power has come down to previously unimaginable size since the days of punch cards and WWII code-breaking machines.

Gateway to the Future

Every time your computer computes, a gate swings open and shut like you just walked from the back yard to the front. Ones and zeros, the foundation of binary (and digital) technology, zoom through those gates on silicon wafers at light-speed, and companies like AMD (whose recent profits you have surely reaped) build their reputations on how well-oiled their gates are.

Now, a research team at the University of Notre Dame has found a way to increase the efficiency and reliability of the entire process.

Spin Doctors

Electronic charge, based on the natural electron, produces electricity. Electrons also possess a quality called spin, which creates magnetism. Magnetic spin handles data storage (which is why you should keep magnets and keys away from floppy disks, if you still have any), while electronic charge processes information through tiny transistors.

The Notre Dame researchers have bundled an array of tiny electronic magnets just a couple billionths of a meter across in such a way that each magnet's polarity will spin the magnet next to it, thus transferring information without inefficient transistors.

As devices become smaller and are asked to perform more functions, economy of size will be increasingly important. This magnetic system leaks less current to adjacent processors than transistors, and information that is being processed when a power surge occurred, for example, would not be lost because the magnets operate independent of charge.

This idea of "Spintronics," introduced in Science recently, could provide an answer to powering the micro and nano-scale devices that I expect to jump into the forefront of military, consumer, and every other sort of technology.

Welcome to the nanoworld.

- Sam Hopkins


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