One Electron Closer to Better Storage Devices

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Today, we're back on spintronics, a field just spinning -- ahem -- with possibilities and new discoveries.


Spintronics studies how to control and exploit an electron's spin. It turns out there are all sorts of real-world applications for spintronics, from manipulating data to making computers more energy efficient.


Spintronics is advancing in miniscule steps. Each month and sometimes each week, there's a new announcement that takes scientists closer to developing real-world technology.


This week, the news is from researchers in the U.S. and Germany, who demonstrated that chirality -- more on that in a moment -- in nanoscale magnets "may play a crucial role in data transmission and manipulation in spintronic devices, where the spin rather than the charge of an electron is used to store data," according to a report on Physorg.com published Monday.


Chirality basically means something that can't be superimposed upon its mirror image. The easiest and most obvious example are your hands. No matter how you place them, your right hand is not a mirror image of your left hand. That's chirality. And that example is why chirality is described in terms of "handedness" or "two-handedness."


OK, so back to our nanoscale magnets. It turns out the chirality of these nanomagnets means we might be able to use them for things like better magnetic storage devices and electronics.


There's a lot more to it than that, but, frankly, my degree was in English and not physics. The fact that I can follow this stuff at all is a great tribute to the teaching abilities of my college roommate, who did become a physicist and an assistant professor at Xavier University. (Props to my peep, Amy.)


You can read the summary on Physorg.com or, if you're really curious, you can pay $18 to download the full article from the May 10 issue of Nature. A subscription to Nature will also give you access to the article, which bears the friendly title, "Condensed-matter Physics: Let's Twist Again."