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FEATURE ARTICLE

Spintronics

A new class of device based on electron spin, rather than on charge, may yield the next generation of microelectronics

Sankar Das Sarma

Spintronics, short for spin electronics, is the study of electron spin in materials in order to better understand its behavior, with the hope of developing an entirely new generation of microelectronic devices. Like charge in a conventional device, spin can exist in one of two states--in this case “up” or “down,” rather than on or off. Physicists believe that this quality can be exploited to build smaller (potentially on atomic scale) binary devices that use less power than charge-current-based devices. Furthermore, because of its quantum nature, electron spin may exist not only in the “up” or “down” state but also in infinitely many intermediate states depending on the energy of the system. This quality holds the potential for what is in effect highly parallel computation, which could make a quantum computer much faster for certain types of calculations.


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