New research could lead to more powerful and energy efficient computers and other electronic devices
Why research is important for the future of computing.
A team at the University of Minnesota has for the first time synthesized a thin film of a special topological semi-metal that can provide more computing power and memory at significantly lower power consumption. The researchers also studied the material in detail and drew important conclusions about the physics behind its unique properties. Study published in the journal Nature Communications.
With the growing need to increase semiconductor manufacturing and support scientific developments related to the creation of materials that power electronic devices, the US recently passed the CHIPS and Science Act. While traditional semiconductors are the technology behind most modern computer chips, scientists and engineers are constantly looking for new materials that can generate more power with less power to make electronics better, smaller, and more efficient.
One candidate for such new and improved computer chips is a class of quantum materials called topological semimetals. The electrons in these materials behave differently, giving the materials unique properties not found in typical insulators and metals used in electronic devices. For this reason, they are being studied for applications in spintronic devices, an alternative to traditional semiconductor devices that use the spin of electrons rather than electrical charge for data storage and information processing.
In a new study, an interdisciplinary team of scientists from the University of Minnesota was able to successfully synthesize such a material as a thin film – and prove that it has the potential for high performance at low power consumption.
“This study shows for the first time that it is possible to go from a weak topological insulator to a topological semi-metal using a magnetic alloying strategy,” said Jian-Ping Wang, senior author of the paper and professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Electrical and Computer Science.
“We are looking for ways to extend the life of our electrical devices and at the same time reduce energy consumption, and we are trying to do this in non-standard, unusual ways.”
Scientists have been working on topological materials for several years now, but a team at the University of Minnesota was the first to use an industry-compatible proprietary sputtering process to create this semi-metal in thin-film format. Because their process is compatible with industry, Wang said the technology could be more easily implemented and used to manufacture real devices.
“Every day in our lives we use electronic devices, from mobile phones to dishwashers and microwave ovens. They all consume energy,” said Andre Mkhoyan, senior author of the paper and professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.
“The question is, how can we minimize this energy consumption? This study is a step in that direction. We offer a new class of materials with similar or often better performance, but at a lower power consumption.”
Because the researchers made the material of such high quality, they were also able to analyze in detail its properties and what makes it so unique.
“One of the main contributions of this work from a physics perspective is that we were able to study some of the most fundamental properties of this material,” said Tony Low, senior author on the paper and professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. .
“Normally, when you apply a magnetic field, the longitudinal resistance of the material increases, but in this particular topological material, we predicted that it would decrease. We were able to confirm our theory with measured charge transfer data and confirm that there is indeed a negative resistance.”
“Every day in our lives we use electronic devices, from mobile phones to dishwashers and microwave ovens. They all use chips. Everything consumes energy,” said Andre Mhoyan, senior author of the article, Ray D. and Mary T. Johnson Chair and professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Minnesota. “The question is how to minimize this energy consumption? The study is a step in this direction. We are developing a new class of materials with similar or even better characteristics, but using much less energy.”