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IBM and Stanford University on Monday launched a joint research center focused on an area of nanotechnology called "spintronics," which could one day end the irritating delay people experience when they turn on their computers.
Spintronics involves use of the spin property of electrons--tiny particles in atoms that produce electricity when flowing through a conduit. Controlling the spin of electrons within a computer's CPU, the chip that provides processing power, is how researchers hope to create the fast-loading computer as well as other enhancements.
IBM and Stanford disclosed the formation of the Spintronic Science and Applications Center, or SpinAps, at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif. Spintronics research will be conducted at Almaden and at Stanford's labs. However, IBM and Stanford researchers don't expect to see commercial products using their work for five to 10 years.
Most of today's electronic research focuses on the ability of electrons to carry an electrical charge. By focusing on an electron's spin properties, IBM and Stanford researchers hope to make breakthroughs in chip design, an IBM spokesman said.
The new design involves stacking layers of material, two or three atoms thick, to control the spin of electrons as they travel through the layers. Among the benefits would be the creation of magnetic random access memory.
RAM is where the computer loads the software needed to run when the machine is turned on. It's this process that takes time. In addition, when the computer is turned off, everything in RAM disappears, which means the process has to be repeated.
Magnetic RAM, on the other hand, would remain on, even when the computer is shut off, which means computer-launching software would be saved. As a result, turning on a computer would immediately take it to its previous state.
"RAM is volatile, which means if you shut down the power, then the information is gone," the spokesman said. "What spintronics allows you to do is set state through electron-spin interaction, so (the chip) doesn't need power to keep the information."
In addition, magnetic RAM won't leak power like the RAM used in today's computers. Because of power leakage, computers have to constantly reload RAM with the software needed to keep the machine running.
"It's like having a leaky bucket, and you have a faucet on to keep the level of water the same," Ross said. "The power is like the faucet. You have to keep it on as the power leaks out."
Eliminating this inefficient power usage means a laptop will run longer on its battery, and computer makers would be able to find new ways to use the power that will no longer be needed for RAM, Ross said.
Spintronics is a field within nanotechnology, the science of developing materials at the atomic and molecular level in order to imbue them with special electrical and chemical properties. Nanotechnology is expected to make major contributions to the fields of computer storage, semiconductors, biotechnology, manufacturing and energy.