multiferroic computers
A false-colored electron microscopy image shows alternating lutetium (yellow) and iron (blue) atomic planes Emily Ryan and Megan Holtz/Cornell, University of Michigan

Researchers at the University of Michigan have engineered a new material – magnetoelectric multiferroic – which could boost the computing power of the next-gen electronic devices, while consuming less energy.

The material wraps electrical and magnetic properties at room temperature and relies on a process called planar rumpling. By combining individual layers of atom the material produces a thin film having magnetic polarity which can be flipped from positive to negative or the other way around with small electricity pulses.

Researchers claim that device-makers could use this property in the coming days to store digital 0's and 1's.

The demand for the room-temperature multiferroic is huge in the electronics filed as they require a less amount of power to read and write data than what the current semiconductor-based computers need. Besides, when power is shut, the data remains intact. And, because of these properties multiferroic devices require only brief pulses of electricity as against the constant stream that's needed for today's electronics. The new devices would use an estimated 100 times less energy.

Ramamoorthy Ramesh, associate laboratory director for energy technologies at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said: "Today, about 5 percent of our total global energy consumption is spent on electronics, and that's projected to grow to 40-50 percent by 2030 if we continue at the current pace and if there are no major advances in the field that lead to lower energy consumption."

To create the new material, researchers used thin and film of hexagonal lutetium iron oxide (LuFeO3). "We were essentially spray painting individual atoms of iron, lutetium and oxygen to achieve a new atomic structure that exhibits stronger magnetic properties," said Darrell Schlom, a materials science and engineering professor at Cornell.

John Heron, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan, said a viable multiferroic device is not likely soon, although the initiative taken in the field puts it closer to its goal of making computer with improved speed.