With data storage increasing rapidly each year with larger quantities of data needing to be transferred, it is important for research into new methods which can step up to these long term challenges. The field of spin electronics or “spintronics” may hold the key to both of these challenges in the future.
It has been known for the last decade that the electronic spin of electrons can be affected using laser pulses and able to monitor the spin state of the stored data. This involved measuring tiny oscillations of the magnetisation of the electron. It was however, incorrectly thought at the time that lasers would be unable to detect fluctuations which are smaller than the wavelength of the laser.
Researches have recently discovered there is no such limitation, demonstrating that it is possible to affect magnets as small as a nanometer in length in 45 femtoseconds. The size is one ten millionth the size required to store data on a modern hard disk drive, with the change occurring over 20,000 times as fast.
Such advances would allow the size of high capacity storage devices to be decreased while operating at much higher transfer speed. Not only would this allow computers and laptops to read and write data at much higher speeds, but it should also develop less heat, allowing for less cooling in data centres.