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May 21, 2021

Magnetic Computers: A step closer with a new cheaper magnetostrictor alloy created

Filed under: Emerging Tech,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:44 PM

As of today computers work by setting bits (zeroes and ones) in silicon chips that require electricity to function. There is also work happening where folks are using Quantum particles to store and process data (in Quantum Computers), then we have optical computer which performs its computation using photons. Except for the first one the rest are still in early development stages. Now we have a new contender in play that uses tiny, changeable magnetic fields to form the zeroes and ones that make up the invisible bedrock of all computers.

A magnetic computer leverages the “spin wave”, a quantum property of electrons; in magnetic materials with a lattice structure. This involves modulating the wave properties to generate a measurable output. The advantage is that this uses very little energy and generates almost no heat. In order to generate this field efficiently we use alloy’s that act as a magnetostrictor. Historically the best magnetostrictor rely on using rare-earth materials which are expensive and mining them generates a lot of toxic waste.

Researchers at University of Michigan along with Intel have created a new alloy that acts as a magnetostrictor by mixing Iron with gallium which is a lot more easily available and is cheaper to mine.

The University of Michigan researchers are hardly the first to use gallium to make magnetostrictive materials, but their predecessors had run into a pesky limit.

“When you go above 20 percent gallium, the material is no longer stable,” says Heron. “The material changes symmetry, it changes crystal structure, and its properties change dramatically.” For one, the material becomes much less shape-shiftingly magnetostrictive.

To get around that limit, Heron and his colleagues had to stop the atoms from shifting their structure. So they crafted their alloy at a relatively chilly 320 degrees Farenheit (160 degrees Celsius)—thus limiting its atoms’ energy. This locked the atoms in place and prevented them from moving about, even as the researchers infused more gallium into the alloy.

Through this method, the researchers were able to make an iron alloy with as much as 30 percent gallium, creating a new material that’s twice as magnetostrictive as its rare-earth counterparts.

This new, more effective magnetostrictor could help scientists build not only a cheaper computer, but also one that doesn’t rely on rare-earth minerals whose mining generates excessive carbon.

This makes allows them to create a system that could compute 0’s and 1’s using magnetic fields in a cheaper and more efficient way than traditional computing. For basic operations, this new system would only need power to change the bit value on the system and once the value is set they don’t need power to keep the value. Unlike silicon which requires power constantly without which the values are lost.

The field is still in it’s early phases so we don’t expect to see devices using this technology for the next few decades. But the base is being built and the new systems will be here sooner rather than later.

The research has been published in Nature: Engineering new limits to magnetostriction through metastability in iron-gallium alloys
Thanks to PopSci: How shape-shifting magnets could help build a lower-emission computer for the initial link.

– Suramya

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