University of Groningen physicists have managed to alter the flow of spin waves through a magnet, using only an electrical current. This is a huge step towards the spin transistor that is needed to construct spintronic devices. These promise to be much more energy efficient than conventional electronics.
The results were published on 2 March in Physical Review Letters.
Spin is a quantum mechanical property of electrons. Simply put, it makes electrons behave like small magnetic compass needles which can point up or down. This can be used to transfer or store information, creating spintronic devices that promise several advantages over normal microelectronics.
In a conventional computer, separate devices are needed for data storage (often using a magnetic process) and data processing (electronic transistors). Spintronics could integrate both in one device, so it would no longer be necessary to move information between storage and processing units. Furthermore, spins can be stored in a non-volatile way, which means that their storage requires no energy, in contrast to normal RAM memory. All this means that spintronics could potentially make faster and more energy-efficient computers.
‘We described this spin transport through a magnet some time ago. Now, we’ve taken the next step: we wanted to influence the transport.’ This was done using a third platinum strip between injector and detector. By applying a positive or negative current, it is possible to either inject additional magnons in the conduction channel or drain magnons from it. ‘That makes our set up analogous to a field effect transistor. In such a transistor, an electric field of a gate electrode reduces or increases the number of free electrons in the channel, thus shutting down or boosting the current.’
The study shows that a YIG spin transistor can be made, and that in the long run this material could even produce a spin superconductor. The beauty of the system is that spin injection and control of spin currents is achieved with a simple DC current, making these spintronic devices compatible with normal electronics. ‘Our next step is to see if we can realize this promise’, concludes Van Wees.
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