“MAGicSky”: Research into Energy-Efficient Computer Devices
A new research project is set to improve the energy efficiency of processors and data storage. In “Magnetic Skyrmions for Future Nanospintronic Devices”, or “MAGicSky” for short, scientists from France, Germany, Great Britain and Switzerland are pursuing an innovative concept for novel computer components based on magnetic vortices known as skyrmions. They aim to demonstrate with the help of the first nanomagnetic components that skyrmions can in principle be used in data processing – and thus pave the way for its industrial development. The EU is supporting the project with around € 3.3 million. The official project website with information on the project’s aims and partners has now been launched.
In line with the concept of so-called “race-track memory” storage technology, a skyrmion encodes a “zero” and a ferromagnetic area a “one”. The TXMR effect discovered in Jülich could make it possible to read out data.
Skyrmions are among the tiniest stable magnetic entities we know of. One can imagine them as two-dimensional magnetic vortex-like configurations made up of a few atoms on the surface or at the interface of thin metal films. Their magnetic moments circulate with a set sense of rotation within a single plane. The groups involved in “MAGicSky” from the Universities of Hamburg and Kiel, along with Forschungszentrum Jülich first discovered the – extremely stable - configurations a few years ago. “Nanomagnetic components based on skyrmions could lead to a breakthrough in energy efficiency. Smartphones and laptops would have to be recharged much less frequently than today, and computer centres would need less energy”, explained Prof. Stefan Blügel, member of JARA-FIT and Director of the Jülich division “Quantum Theory of Materials” (PGI-1/IAS-1). His group conducts research on the theoretical fundamentals of “MAGicSky”.
In future, each skyrmion shall store a bit. Because of their small dimensions, they can be packed densely together. In contrast to hard drives, which are set in rotation when data is being written or read out, with skyrmion-based devices the bits move through the material like an electric current flowing through a wire. No mechanically moving parts are needed, only weak electric currents, which will save energy. Moreover, data would be immediately available as soon as the device is switched on, as they would be stored in non-volatile memory. It should be possible to manufacture the envisaged devices using techniques that are today already standard in industry.
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