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Posted: July 1, 2009
Three-year spintronics projects receives GBP 430k grant
(Nanowerk News) A team of researchers from the University of Surrey and two other institutions have been awarded a grant of around £430,000 to develop ultra-small-scale silicon structures for 'spintronic' semiconductors. Jointly awarded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the National Science Foundation of China, the work could eventually lead to cheaper and more sophisticated processing technologies for use in computer technology.
Called 'Silicon-Based Nanospintronics', the grant brings together experts from the London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL (University College London), the Institute of Microelectronics at Peking University and the University of Surrey's Advanced Technology Institute. The Institute for Plasma Physics in Utrecht, the Netherlands, with whom the University of Surrey has long-standing links, is an additional but informal partner for the project.
The proposal exploits the combination of Chinese excellence in silicon fabrication nanotechnology and UK expertise in observing and controlling the way electrons spin within semiconductors. It will last for approximately three years, and will involve several student exchanges between the University of Surrey and Peking University. This is in keeping with the University of Surrey's bold internationalisation strategy involving partnerships with elite institutions worldwide.
Professor Benedict N. Murdin, Associate Dean of the University of Surrey's Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences and Photonics Group Leader at the Advanced Technology Institute, said: "This is an important development in a key emerging area of research, and the University of Surrey's Advanced Technology Institute is once again at the heart of world-class nanotechnology research. The grant is also an example of our pursuit of pioneering research combined with real potential benefits for industry and technology consumers."
Yu Xiaomei of Peking University, said: "This is an important collaboration between three top international institutions, and we are excited by the prospect of making strides in a research area with huge innovation potential. The student exchange programme will also help to reinforce the future knowledge base of the nanotechnology sector, while bringing major cultural and academic benefits to students at Peking University and the University of Surrey."
The spin of electrons is a fundamental quantum mechanical phenomenon which causes them to behave like small magnets. In normal electronic devices the spin is not relevant, because their operation occurs simply by the effect of electric fields on the electron charge. However, the increased energy dissipation and performance variability associated with smaller devices is spurring a search for 'spintronic' methods and devices, where information is carried by the spin itself.
While silicon has not been the material of choice for 'spintronic' research to date, exploration of silicon-based platforms in the area are important due to the potential for exploiting what is an extremely high purity material, and the far cheaper and more sophisticated processing technologies available for this type of semiconductor.
Silicon has not been highly studied for 'spintronic' purpose to date because of its very weak magnetic properties. This makes it difficult for researchers to manipulate the spins from clockwise to anti-clockwise and vice-versa. The 'Silicon-Based Nanospintronics' team has, however, proposed a new way of manipulating electron spins with laser beams, and the research programme has the objective of building a prototype device for this.