London, November 25 : Scientists from Queen Mary, University of London, say that an exciting new field of research called 'organic spintronics' has helped them improve their understanding of the inner workings of computers and mp3 players.
Dr Alan Drew from Queen Mary's Department of Physics and the University of Freiburg, Switzerland, who worked in collaboration with researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Switzerland, has for the first time measured how the magnetic polarisation is lost in a device similar to a hard drive 'read-head', which is found in every computer produced in the last decade.
Unlike most electronic components in which the electron's intrinsic electric field or charge is used to carry a signal, magnetic read-heads use the electron's intrinsic magnetic field - known as their 'spin' - to carry information.
Spin-valves are made up of at least three layers, two magnetic layers separated by a non-magnetic layer.
Dr. Drew revealed that he and his colleagues wanted to see how spins travel across the middle of the three layers, as any such information could help improve future generations of data storage.
He believes that the findings of his team may contribute significantly to the understanding of spintronic devices, and will allow new concepts to develop and aid in the discovery of novel devices and applications.
"Spintronics promise low-power circuits, possibly at the quantum level, and the possibility of combining communication, memory and logic on the same chip. The efficient transfer of spin in these devices remains one of the most difficult challenges facing physicists. One way of improving the efficiency of these devices could be to change the materials they are made from, but currently we are unable to predict what effects the different materials will have," Nature Materials quoted him as saying.
What makes this research even more interesting is the fact that it involved the use of a new combination of materials to make the device.
Dr. Drew says: "When devices are made from organic materials, which have low manufacturing costs and are very flexible, the magnetic information can be preserved for extremely long times - over a million times longer than many materials used in today's technology. These new materials have the potential to create an entirely new generation of spin-enabled devices."
In their study report, the researchers describe how their team used muons, elementary particles that act like tiny magnets, to measure the magnetic field within the device.
Dr. Morenzoni, from PSI, says: "The muons have a high energy and must be slowed down before they can be used in the experiment and the equipment we used to do this is unique - PSI is the only source of 'slow' muons in the world, and the only equipment that can measure depth resolved magnetism."
The researchers think that further studies may, in the long run, help understand the fundamental operation of spintronics and hard drive read-heads, something that can be helpful in optimising the heads and improving computer storage.