Sunday, January 23, 2005

Spintronics pioneer teaches online class

ParkinDo you want to learn more about spintronics Magnetic Random-Access Memory (MRAM)? Why not learn from the best? Stuart Parkin of IBM is teaching an online course that's available anytime, in your pajamas or whatever else you wear around the house.

Parkin is a pioneer in MRAM, with 32 patents to his credit. It’s largely through Parkin’s work that spintronics has received the buzz that it has. Parkin is in charge of the IBM/Stanford University Spintronic Science and Applications Center, which is trying to bridge the gap between the bulky semiconductor world and the quantum world of spintronics.

MRAM stores data in the spins of individual electrons. They do this inside "tiny magnetic sandwiches" that sit appetizingly at the intersection of two perpendicular electrodes that run above and below it. Use these electrodes to zap the magnets from above and below, and the electrons inside will dervishly spin to your command.

Hit them with parallel currents, and the electrons will do an Esther Williams number, spinning in unison in the same direction, and in the process writing a "1" in binary code. But, then, break out the topspin you've been practicing in the basement ping-pong table and you'll get the top layer of electrons to move in the opposite direction from the bottom. You've just written a "zero."

Just think of the possibilities of MRAM/spintronic-based disk drives in laptops, alone, where there's more wear and tear just through lots of little, scattered writes and frequent power-ups and power-downs. Embed an MRAM chip in there, and there will be fewer visits to your laptop's hard drive. Fewer disk writes, fewer spinups and spindown cycles, and your laptop will no longer conk out after a couple of years. The flight attendant tells you to turn off all portable electronics … now, and in a panic you power down without saving. No worries. Power it back up at 10,000 feet, and you pick up where you left off.

Who should take the class? According to the outline, scientists and engineers involved in semiconductor memories or are involved in any other aspect of chip fabrication or integrated circuits with embedded MRAM, or graduate students interested in learning about magnetic devices.

But, of course, it's not knowledge for knowledge's sake. There's a profit motive. According to NanoMarkets, the MRAM market will grow to $16.1 billion by 2012. (Full disclosure: I was the lead author last year on a NanoMarkets report that looked at nanotech-enabled memory and storage. I was not involved in this latest report, though, and have nothing to do with the online class).

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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

With Cypress out of MRAM, the notion that the MRAM market will be as big as it is certainly seems optimistic....