Beyond Silicon: Building the Nano Computer

Silicon just not fast enough for you? Not to worry, researchers are working on new ways to process those zeros and ones.

The University of California, Riverside has received a $1.85 million grant to develop a new way of computing. The money was awarded to UC Riverside under the nationwide “Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond” competition sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative.

“Conventional silicon electronics will soon face its ultimate limit. Our approach is to utilize the spin degree of freedom to store and process information, which will allow the functions of logic and memory to be fully integrated into a single chip.” — Roland Kawakami, a professor of physics and astronomy and the four-year grant’s principal investigator

The spin of electrons can provide the on/off properties needed for computing. Spin causes electrons to behave as tiny magnets with a “north” and “south” pole. Electrons can occupy different spin states corresponding to different orientations for the magnetic poles. For spin-based computing, data is held in the spin state of the electron.  

“We are looking at a completely new architecture or framework for computing,” said Kawakami. “This involves developing a new type of ‘building-block’ device known as a magnetologic gate that will serve as the engine for this technology – similar to the role of the transistor in conventional electronics.”

A Magnetologic Gate

The image shows a magnetologic gate, which consists of graphene contacted by several magnetic electrodes. Image credit: Kawakami lab, UC Riverside.

A magnetologic gate consists of graphene contacted by several magnetic electrodes. You may have heard of graphene, the strongest material known to man. It’s been called a miracle material because of its strength and conductive properties. Scientists have already used it to build a 1 atom thick transistor out of it. In a A magnetologic gate, data is stored in the magnetic state of the electrodes, similar to the way data is stored in a magnetic hard drive. For the logic operations, electrons move through the graphene and use its spin state to compare the information held in the individual magnetic electrodes.

The research project, which began Sept. 15, is a multicampus effort being led by UC Riverside.  It is based on two breakthroughs in nanoelectronics: The concept of spin-based computing using a magnetologic gate designed by Lu Sham’s group at UC San Diego in 2007; and the demonstration of tunneling spin injection and spin transport in graphene by Kawakami’s group in 2010.

And if nanotech isn’t fast enough for you, DNA computing research is already under way.

Learn the basics of graphene, as well as how to make you own:

Source: University of California, Riverside.

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