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North Carolina State University researchers have developed a magnetic semiconductor memory device, using GaMnN thin films, which utilizes both the charge and spin of electrons at room temperature. This is a major breakthrough, as previous devices that used magnetic semiconductors (GaMnAs) and controlled electron spin were only functional at 100 K (-173°C). By controlling the spin of electrons, the new device represents a significant advance in semiconductor efficiency.
The new device is also an advance on earlier experimental models because it uses only 5-6 V to switch the bias of the electrons. Previous cold-temperature devices used much higher voltage. The research was published April 2 in Applied Physics Letters.
Dr. Nadia El-Masry, an MSE professor, and Dr. S.M. Bedair, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, led an NC State research team that has achieved this key milestone in developing a new type of semiconductor. Its developers say it offers the promise of substantial gains in semiconductor efficiency and functionality.
This emerging technology enables a semiconductor to make use of electron spin (that is, the up and down motion of the subatomic electron) as well as the positive or negative charge characteristics that support the functionality of today's microelectronic devices. Experiments conducted by other researchers have yielded functional prototypes of spin-electronic devices, which are also known as magnetic semiconductors. But the earlier prototypes all had a significant drawback: they could function only at extremely cold temperatures—around minus 267°F.
El-Masry says the team has produced a magnetic memory device that operates at and above room temperature, opening the door to practical applications for this technology. Other potential uses for spin-electronic devices cited by El-Masry include lasers and light emitting diodes (LEDs) whose emission wavelengths are controlled by applying a magnetic field.
Dr. N. Nepal, a National Research Council fellow, is also on the research team. A grant from the Army Research Office is funding the research.
About North Carolina State University
With more than 31,000 students and nearly 8,000 faculty and staff, North Carolina State University is a comprehensive university known for its leadership in education and research, and globally recognized for its science, technology, engineering and mathematics leadership.
NC State students, faculty and staff are focused. As one of the leading land-grant institutions in the nation, NC State is committed to playing an active and vital role in improving the quality of life for the citizens of North Carolina, the nation and the world.
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