RIVERSIDE, Calif. Physicists at UC Riverside have made an accidental discovery in the lab that has potential to change how information in computers can be transported or stored. Dependent on the "spin" of electrons, a property electrons possess that makes them behave like tiny magnets, the discovery could help in the development of spin-based semiconductor technology such as ultrahigh-speed computers.
The researchers were experimenting with ferromagnet/semiconductor (FM/SC) structures, which are key building blocks for semiconductor spintronic devices (microelectronic devices that perform logic operations using the spin of electrons). The FM/SC structure is sandwich-like in appearance, with the ferromagnet and semiconductor serving as microscopically thin slices between which lies a thinner still insulator made of a few atomic layers of magnesium oxide (MgO).
The researchers found that by simply altering the thickness of the MgO interface they were able to control which kinds of electrons, identified by spin, traveled from the semiconductor, through the interface, to the ferromagnet.
Study results appear in the June 13 issue of Physical Review Letters.
The spin of an electron is represented by a vector, pointing up for an Earth-like west-to-east spin; and down for an east-to-west spin.
In the researchers' experiment with the FM/SC structures, both spin up and spin down electrons were allowed to travel from the semiconductor to the ferromagnet.
The researchers found that when the structure's MgO interface is very thin (less than two atomic layers), spin down electrons pass through to the ferromagnet, while spin up electrons are reflected back, leaving only spin up electrons in the semiconductor.
They also found that when the interface is thicker than six atomic layers, both spin up and spin down electrons are reflected back, leaving
|Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala|
University of California - Riverside