Scientists at three
The discovery is said to have important consequences for the IT industry, as current technology memory storage has limited scope to develop further. The density with which information can be stored magnetically in permanent memory (hard drives) is reaching a natural limit related to the size of the magnetic particles used. The much faster silicon-chip based random access memory (RAM) in computers loses the information stored when the power is switched off.
The key advance of the recent research has been in developing ways to use high-energy beams of gallium ions to artificially control the direction of the magnetic field in regions of cobalt films just a few atoms thick.
The direction of the field can be used to store information: in this case up or down correspond to the 1 or 0 that form the basis of binary information storage in computers.
Further, the physicists have demonstrated that the direction of these magnetic areas can be read by measuring their electrical resistance. This can be done much faster than the system for reading information on current hard drives. They propose that the magnetic state can be switched from up to down with a short pulse of electrical current, thereby fulfilling all the requirements for a fast magnetic memory cell.
Using the new technology, computers will never lose memory even during a power cut.
Professor Simon Bending, of the
‘We’re particularly pleased as we were told in the beginning that our approach probably would not work, but we persevered and now it has definitely paid off.’
Bending worked with imon Crampin, Atif Aziz and Hywel Roberts in
Another approach to overcoming the problem of storing data permanently with rapid retrieval times is that of magnetic random access memory chips (MRAMs). Prototypes of these have already been developed by several companies. However, MRAM uses the stray magnetic fields generated by wires that carry a high electrical current to switch the data state from up to down, which greatly limits the density of information storage.
In contrast, if the approach at