Engineer unveils new spin on future of transistors with novel design

“The concept brings together an assortment of existing nanoscale technologies and combines them in a new way,” said Dr. Joseph S. Friedman, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UT Dallas who conducted much of the research while he was a doctoral student at Northwestern University.

The resulting all-carbon spin logic proposal, published by lead author Friedman and several collaborators in the June 5 issue of the online journal Nature Communications, is a computing system that Friedman believes could be made smaller than silicon transistors, with increased performance.

Today’s electronic devices are powered by transistors, which are tiny silicon structures that rely on negatively charged electrons moving through the silicon, forming an electric current. Transistors behave like switches, turning current on and off.

In addition to carrying a charge, electrons have another property called spin, which relates to their magnetic properties. In recent years, engineers have been investigating ways to exploit the spin characteristics of electrons to create a new class of transistors and devices called “spintronics.”

Friedman’s all-carbon, spintronic switch functions as a logic gate that relies on a basic tenet of electromagnetics: As an electric current moves through a wire, it creates a magnetic field that wraps around the wire. In addition, a magnetic field near a two-dimensional ribbon of carbon — called a graphene nanoribbon — affects the current flowing through the ribbon. In traditional, silicon-based computers, transistors cannot exploit this phenomenon. Instead, they are connected to one another by wires. The output from one transistor is connected by a wire to the input for the next transistor, and so on in a cascading fashion.

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