NYU and IBM Researchers Discover a New Spintronics-Based Fast Data Transfer Solution

May 27, 2020 by Sam Holland

Working in collaboration, New York University and IBM Research have studied the use of spintronics as a means to increase the efficiency of both data transfer and storage—thus enhancing the already-fast-growing R&D into spintronics-based software solutions.

The researchers include senior authors Andrew Kent from NYU’s Department of Physics, and Jonathan Sun of IBM Research; alongside Junwen Xu, an NYU graduate student, and Christopher Safranski of IBM Research.

The Importance of Using Ferromagnetic Conductors

NYU and IBM’s spintronics discovery is significant in that it enables the control of electrons’ spin-polarization axis orientation. Notably, the direction of an electron spin can be used to handle the stored bits of information in memory technology. (Ever since the discovery of this fact, magnetic data storage has enjoyed great improvements in memory capacity—which can be read about in the article, The Application of Spintronics, by IBM itself.)

An additional level of electron spin control was achieved thanks to the researchers’ use of a ferromagnetic conductor (examples of ferromagnetic conductors include iron, nickel, and cobalt). 

According to NYU News, the researchers found that such a “conductor can produce a spin polarization that is in a direction set by its magnetic moment, [which] is significant because the magnetic moment direction can now be set in just about any desired direction to then set the spin polarization”.


A graphic of cloud computing, archives, and data transfer.

A digital memory concept image. Pictured: a graphic of binary code entering a digital folder to represent the data handling efficiency involved in NYU and IBM's spintronics project.


Implementing the Planar-Hall Effect with Ferromagnetic Conductors

The use of ferromagnetic conductors facilitated NYU and IBM’s use of the planar-Hall effect, or PHE. Such a solution was used instead of the traditional spintronics dynamic: the spin Hall effect, or SHE (also see the Hall effect)—as SHE doesn’t offer the same level of spin polarization as PHE.

Write NYU staff: “The direction of the spin polarization in the spin Hall effect is always parallel to the surface of the conductor … This limits its applications because it provides only one possible axis of spin polarization, limiting storage density”.

The researchers’ implementation of ferromagnetic conductors, and therefore, the planar-Hall effect, were shown to revolutionize the potential of memory storage devices, given their ability to attain “higher-density and more efficient memory technology.” 

Plus, the achieved polarized electron spins were found to be part of a pure spin current, whose low-heat properties make it a sought-after phenomenon in electronics: it has the potential to facilitate smaller, faster, and generally more efficient circuitry.


A New and Fundamental Mechanism

While the exploitation of the electron spin state is not a new solution to data processing and transfer, New York University and IBM Research’s study remains significant in that no previous research has shown an electron spin direction to be so controllable. Said Professor Kent: “This research shows a new and fundamental mechanism for setting the electron spin direction in a conducting material.”

Ultimately, NYU and IBM’s research is the latest example of the speed, memory capacity, and overall efficiency improvements that data-based devices may enjoy using spintronics.