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Small objects of attraction

The development of a new type of microprocessor using magnetic fields rather than the electronic versions used today has captured the imagination of the media. With the promise of even lighter and smaller computers and mobile phones, a major breakthrough in the technology behind the electronics industry is forecast.

Mark Welland, the Head of the Nanoscale Science Laboratory in the Department of Engineering explains "We are essentially engineering with atoms. The whole process of fabricating and understanding structures becomes exponentially more difficult as things get smaller." The breakthrough came, as it often does in Cambridge, as a result of the meeting of minds. Dr Russell Cowburn came to work at Engineering from the Cavendish, bringing with him an expertise in magnetism. This combined with the expertise in nanofabrication already present in the Nanoscale Science Laboratory meant that the researchers were able to fabricate magnetic dots of a size down to 10nm, and then determine their magnetic properties.

magnetic dots triangular anisotropy field square anisotropy field pentagonal anisotropy field

Experimentally measured anisotropy fields from triangular,square and pentagonal nanomagnets in the size range 50-500nm.

Having understood the physics behind these minute magnetic particles, it soon became apparent to Russell that they could be used as logic gates for a microprocessor. The team has already demonstrated the capability of such structures to work as a single logic gate, and the next step will be to develop the technology to produce a complete working device. "You can think of this as being similar to the invention of the first transistor", explains Russell Cowburn. "Once you have demonstrated that one works, then more complex circuits can be built and the technology takes off.

Although the research to produce these nanoscale magnets is highly fundamental, the team are now looking for industrial links, especially with potential manufacturers.

For more information on nano magnetism, visit the web site or contact Dr Russell Cowburn on 01223 332608, e-mail: rpcl2@cam.ac.uk.

number 9, July 2000 home | contents | previous | next