Magazine article Science News

Tidily Tweaking Electrons' Twirls. (Electronic Acrobats)

Magazine article Science News

Tidily Tweaking Electrons' Twirls. (Electronic Acrobats)

Article excerpt

Controlling a quantum trait of electrons that could be vital for future computers may just have gotten easier. Instead of manipulating electrons' spins with microscale magnetic fields, which tend to be weak and sluggish, researchers in California and Pennsylvania have devised a simpler, electric means of controlling the spins.

The scientists did their experiments at a temperature near absolute zero. However, if the new tactic can work at room temperature, it would remove a major obstacle to the development of so-called spintronics--circuitry that exploits electronic spin in addition to electronic charge, says David D. Awschalom of the University of California, Santa Barbara. He and Jeremy Levy of the University of Pittsburgh led a collaboration working toward this goal. Spintronic circuits would be faster, denser, and more energy efficient than conventional ones, the scientists predict.

If the technique can also be extended to single electrons, it might lead to so-called quantum computers, which are expected to decipher codes and search databases millions of times faster than conventional computing machines can (SN: 2/1/03, p. 77; see story on page 124).

The new work, reported in the Feb. 21 Science, is "an extremely important contribution to both spintronies and quantum computation," comments Michael E. Flatte of the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

The spin of an electron generates a tiny magnetic field along the particle's spin axis. Spintronics schemes generally encode a stream of information as variations in the three-dimensional orientation of electrons' spin axes. …

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