Light pulse flips magnetic memory cell at record speed

Article By : University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering

Magnetic tunnel junction is critical to advances beyond Moore’s law, but there is a limitation on how fast the material's reversing process can be.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering have set a new record speed—one trillionth of a second—for magnetic tunnel junction switching, which could pave the way for the development of systems that can both store and analyse a large amount of data simultaneously.

The magnetic tunnel junction is critical to information technology advances with the termination of Moore’s law. And this recent advancement, according to the researchers, holds promise for the development of new, optically controlled magnetic devices collectively called spintronics.

The details of the device and the tests conducted on it are reported in a paper published recently in Physical Review Applied, a journal of the American Physical Society.

Typically, the magnetic tunnel junction has a “sandwich-like” structure comprised of two layers of magnetic materials with an insulating layer, called barrier, in the middle. Information is written on the magnetic material by reversing the magnetisation of one of the layers. This reversing process often involves spiral motion in the spinning electrons, called spin processing. However, there is a limitation on how fast the spin processing can be. The brakes are applied at roughly 1.6GHz, a current speed record that is much slower than silicon transistors. To enable faster writing speeds, the limitations on speed have to be overcome.

“With our invention of a new magnetic tunnel junction, there is now a way to speed things up,” said Mo Li, an associate professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who led the research.

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