Through selective doping, North Carolina State University engineers have created a new material that would allow a fingernail-size computer chip to store a terabyte of information.
The process also shows promise for boosting vehicles’ fuel economy and reducing heat produced by semiconductors.
Working at the nanometer level, the engineers added metal nickel to magnesium oxide, a ceramic. The resulting material contained clusters of nickel atoms no bigger than 10 square nanometers, a 90 percent size reduction compared to today’s techniques and an advancement that could boost computer storage capacity.
“Instead of making a chip that stores 20 gigabytes, you have one that can handle one terabyte, or 50 times more data,” says Dr Jagdish Narayan.
Information storage is not the only area where advances could be made. By introducing metallic properties into ceramics, Narayan says engineers could develop a new generation of ceramic engines able to withstand twice the temperatures of normal engines and achieve fuel economy of 80 miles per gallon. And since the thermal conductivity of the material would be improved, the technique could also have applications in harnessing alternative energy sources like solar energy.
The engineers’ discovery also advances knowledge in the emerging field of spintronics, which is dedicated to harnessing energy produced by the spinning of electrons.
Most energy used today is harnessed through the movement of current and is limited by the amount of heat that it produces, but the energy created by the spinning of electrons produces no heat.
The NC State engineers were able to manipulate the nanomaterial so the electrons’ spin within the material could be controlled, which could prove valuable to harnessing the electrons’ energy. The finding could help engineers produce more efficient semiconductors.
Their findings are published in JOM, the journal of the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society.