A View from Herb Brody

Putting a New Spin on Computing

Physicists often like to remind people that our simple-minded picture of electrons is woefully naive. Electrons aren’t so much tiny little particles whizzing around an atomic nucleus as they are a kind of fuzzy wave function–a probabilistic distributions of electric…

  • April 27, 2004

Physicists often like to remind people that our simple-minded picture of electrons is woefully naive. Electrons aren’t so much tiny little particles whizzing around an atomic nucleus as they are a kind of fuzzy wave function–a probabilistic distributions of electric charge, forming an amorphous cloud. Funny thing, though: physics also tells us that electrons have spin–which is kind of hard to imagine about a probability cloud. But the experimental observations and the math all work out that way, and so there we are. Which brings us to today’s announcement that IBM and Stanford are teaming up to push what could become the next big thing in computing: spintronics. Electrons can spin in one of two ways, conventionally known as “up” and “down,” which indicates the direction of the magnetic field it produce. The phenomenon lends itself to binary systems, i.e. computing; manipulating the electrons’ spin (and hence magnetic field) could offer a new way to store and process informaion.

Spintronics technology is actually already in widespread use; the extraordinary expansion during the 1990s of computer hard drive capacity stems from the development of an IBM-discovered phenomenon called the giant magnetoresistive effect. And spintronic technology is at the heart of magnetic RAM (MRAM) technology which holds the promise of instant-on computing.

IBM is providing seed money for the venture, called The IBM-Stanford Spintronic Science and Applications Center (SpinAps). Stanford scientists will pull their share of the research load, and the two organizations will split the intellectual property. The IBM website talks about future developments such as reconfigurable logic devices, room-temperature superconductors, and quantum computers but says that commercial devices coming from the collaboration are at least five years out.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.