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Spinning Electrons To Store Data

Hard drives and Flash drives, two most commonly used memory devices have their own pros and cons. While hard drives are cheap, easy to fabricate and can provide terabytes of storage, they are not very reliable and also very fragile. Flash memory, on the other hand, is quite rugged, yet wear out after repeated use and are relatively expensive. Another option is combining hard drives and flash memories—a data storage medium that is cheap and easy to make and maintain with almost unlimited storage! Manufacturers have for long been researching this area. Now IBM claims to have hit the jackpot by inventing such a medium and plans to introduce it to the market after four years.

Referred to as “racetrack” by scientists, this data storage medium is based on spintronics—a physical phenomenon that uses the charge and spin properties of electrons to store data. When there is a need to read or write data, an electric charge is passed through the nano wire, causing magnetic domains to move and data to be transferred.

IBM has been working on this project using the spin properties of atoms for four years. In the latest prototypes, current pulses were used with a frequency the same as the resonant frequency of the nano wire. As a result, the current requirement has been reduced by five-folds, making this new technology more practical. The fabrication of the nanowires, as well as the ability to move the domains linearly are the main challenges.

Thousands of nanowires can be accommodated by fabrication on a silicon chip, thereby making further miniaturisation of memory a reality. Once the fabrication process is perfected, the memory chips will be virtually indestructible, consume very low power and reliably store huge amounts of data.