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Magnetic Chip

Computers process data electronically and store data magnetically; but what if you could make a magnetic processor? A microchip made of magnetic semiconductor material would have unique properties; for example, it could store information while simultaneously performing computations. To make a magnetic chip behave like an electronic one, researchers have tried to control the spin of electrons, with clockwise and counterclockwise movements representing the zeroes and ones of a digital system. Previous attempts have required extremely low temperatures, making them costly and impractical, but materials scientists at North Carolina State University recently built a prototype that functions at a range of 38 to 75 C. The researchers accomplished their goal by “adding manganese to gallium nitride,” says electrical engineering professor Salah M. Bedair. The rest of the recipe is a secret while the group’s patent is pending. One potential application: a laser or LED that can be tuned to different wavelengths by adjusting a magnetic field. Such a device could be valuable for fiber-optic communications. -C. Conti