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Microchip moves information around in 3-D: From left to right, back to front, and up and down

Date:
January 30, 2013
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
Scientists have created, for the first time, a new type of microchip which allows information to travel in three dimensions. Currently, microchips can only pass digital information in a very limited way -- from either left to right or front to back.

Scientists have created, for the first time, a new type of microchip which allows information to travel in three dimensions. Currently, microchips can only pass digital information in a very limited way -- from either left to right or front to back.
Credit: LindenArtWork

Scientists from the University of Cambridge have created, for the first time, a new type of microchip which allows information to travel in three dimensions. Currently, microchips can only pass digital information in a very limited way -- from either left to right or front to back.

The research is published Jan. 31 in Nature.

Dr Reinoud Lavrijsen, an author on the paper from the University of Cambridge, said: "Today's chips are like bungalows -- everything happens on the same floor. We've created the stairways allowing information to pass between floors."

Researchers believe that in the future a 3D microchip would enable additional storage capacity on chips by allowing information to be spread across several layers instead of being compacted into one layer, as is currently the case.

For the research, the Cambridge scientists used a special type of microchip called a spintronic chip which exploits the electron's tiny magnetic moment or 'spin' (unlike the majority of today's chips which use charge-based electronic technology). Spintronic chips are increasingly being used in computers, and it is widely believed that within the next few years they will become the standard memory chip.

To create the microchip, the researchers used an experimental technique called 'sputtering'. They effectively made a club-sandwich on a silicon chip of cobalt, platinum and ruthenium atoms. The cobalt and platinum atoms store the digital information in a similar way to how a hard disk drive stores data. The ruthenium atoms act as messengers, communicating that information between neighbouring layers of cobalt and platinum. Each of the layers is only a few atoms thick.

They then used a laser technique called MOKE to probe the data content of the different layers. As they switched a magnetic field on and off they saw in the MOKE signal the data climbing layer by layer from the bottom of the chip to the top. They then confirmed the results using a different measurement method.

Professor Russell Cowburn, lead researcher of the study from the Cavendish Laboratory, the University of Cambridge's Department of Physics, said: "Each step on our spintronic staircase is only a few atoms high. I find it amazing that by using nanotechnology not only can we build structures with such precision in the lab but also using advanced laser instruments we can actually see the data climbing this nano-staircase step by step.

"This is a great example of the power of advanced materials science. Traditionally, we would use a series of electronic transistors to move data like this. We've been able to achieve the same effect just by combining different basic elements such as cobalt, platinum and ruthenium. This is the 21st century way of building things -- harnessing the basic power of elements and materials to give built-in functionality."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original article is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Reinoud Lavrijsen, Ji-Hyun Lee, Amalio Fernαndez-Pacheco, Dorothιe C. M. C. Petit, Rhodri Mansell, Russell P. Cowburn. Magnetic ratchet for three-dimensional spintronic memory and logic. Nature, 2013; 493 (7434): 647 DOI: 10.1038/nature11733

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Microchip moves information around in 3-D: From left to right, back to front, and up and down." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130130132407.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2013, January 30). Microchip moves information around in 3-D: From left to right, back to front, and up and down. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130130132407.htm
University of Cambridge. "Microchip moves information around in 3-D: From left to right, back to front, and up and down." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130130132407.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

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