'Atomic sandwiches' could greatly improve energy efficiency in computers

ANN ARBOR — A newly engineered material could lead to a new generation of computing devices which pack more power while using only a fraction of the energy required today.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and Cornell University collaborated on the project, which produced what is called a magnetoelectric multiferroic material. The thin film produced by sandwiching layers of atoms together exhibits a property called planar rumpling, which allows the material’s magnetic polarity to be flipped with small pulses of electricity — a property that could be used to store digital information in the future.

This particular material is only the second to allow this to be done at room temperature — a goal that researchers say is hotly pursued in the field of electronics due to the potential for significant power savings over current semiconductor-based technology.

A device using this material is likely several years from being realized, but researchers say it could help the electronics industry keep up with Moore’s Law, which predicts that the power of integrated circuits will double every year. While this has held true since the 1960s, experts predict that current silicon-based technology may be approaching its limits.

The researchers’ study about the new material was recently published in Nature.

[Photo courtesy Emily Ryan and Megan Holtz / Cornell]