If you haven’t already heard of antiferromagnetic spintronics it won’t be long before you do. This relatively unused class of magnetic materials could be about to transform our digital lives. They have the potential to make our devices smaller, faster, more robust and increase their energy efficiency.
Physicists at The University of Nottingham, working in collaboration with researchers in the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland, and Hitachi Europe, have published (14:00 EST Thursday January 14 2016) new research in the prestigious academic journal Science which shows how the ‘magnetic spins’ of these antiferromagnets can be controlled to make a completely different form of digital memory.
Lead researcher Dr Peter Wadley, from the School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Nottingham,said: “This work demonstrates the first electrical current control of antiferromagnets. It utilises an entirely new physical phenomenon, and in doing so demonstrates the first all-antiferromagnetic memory device. This could be hugely significant as antiferromagnets have an intriguing set of properties, including a theoretical switching speed limit approximately 1000 times faster than the best current memory technologies.”
This entirely new form of memory has a set of properties which could make it extremely useful in modern electronics. It does not produce magnetic fields, meaning the individual elements can be packed more closely, leading to higher storage density. Antiferromagnet memory is also insensitive to magnetic fields and radiation making it particularly suitable for niche markets, such as satellite and aircraft electronics.
If all of this potential could be realised, antiferromagnetic memory would be an excellent candidate for a so-called “universal memory”, replacing all other forms of memory in computing, and transforming our electronic devices.