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spin electronics,



science and technology that harnesses the spin state of electronselectron,
elementary particle carrying a unit charge of negative electricity. Ordinary electric current is the flow of electrons through a wire conductor (see electricity). The electron is one of the basic constituents of matter.
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 in addition to the electrical charge state to store data or perform calculations. The spin of an electron is a property that makes the electron act like a tiny magnet. This property—detected as a weak magnetic force—can be used to encode information in electronic circuits, computers, and similar electronic devices. Conventional electronicselectronics,
science and technology based on and concerned with the controlled flow of electrons or other carriers of electric charge, especially in semiconductor devices. It is one of the principal branches of electrical engineering.
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 on the other hand ignores these spins and instead employs the accumulation or movement of electrons (or other carriers of electric charge, especially semiconductorsemiconductor,
solid material whose electrical conductivity at room temperature is between that of a conductor and that of an insulator (see conduction; insulation). At high temperatures its conductivity approaches that of a metal, and at low temperatures it acts as an insulator.
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 devices) to encode information.

The first major breakthrough in spintronics was the discovery of the giant magnetoresistance (GMR) effect in 1988. Working independently, Albert FertFert, Albert
, 1938– French physicist, b. Carcassonne, France. After receiving his Ph.D. at the Univ. of Paris-Sud in 1970 Fert accepted a teaching position there and headed a research group, becoming a professor in 1976.
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 in France and Peter GrünbergGrünberg, Peter Andreas
, 1939–2018 German physicist, b. Pilsen, Germany (now Plzeň, Czech Republic). After receiving his Ph.D. at the Darmstadt Univ. of Technology in 1969, he was a postdoctoral fellow of the National Research Council of Canada at Carleton Univ.
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 in Germany found that in a material consisting of alternating layers of magnetic and nonmagnetic atoms a very small change in a magnetic field can produce a large change in electrical resistance. Employing advances in nanotechnology (see under micromechanicsmicromechanics,
the combination of minuscule electrical and mechanical components in a single device less than 1 mm across, such as a valve or a motor. Although micromechanical production processes and applications are still in the developmental stage, efforts have begun to
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), they used chemical techniques that allowed them to make layers of different materials that were only a few atoms thick. The GMR effect was used in the development of data-storage devices that were physically smaller but allowed increasingly denser packing of the information content. The first commercial devices using the GMR effect, produced in 1997, had a 40-fold increase in data density when compared with conventional electronics. The technology is now used in computer storage, personal music players, cell phones, and other devices that benefit from the increased size of readable memory. In a more sensitive effect, called tunneling magnetoresistance (TMR), an insulating material acts as a sandwich. Electrons can move through the sandwich by quantum tunnelingtunneling,
quantum-mechanical effect by which a particle can penetrate a barrier into a region of space that would be forbidden by ordinary classical mechanics. Tunneling is a direct result of the wavelike properties of particles; the wave associated with a particle "decays"
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. Another spintronic breakthrough product is magnetoresistive memory (MRAM), which uses electron spin to store information; while requiring less power than coventional magnetic storage technologies, it combines the density of DRAM (dynamic random access memory) with the speed of SRAM (static random access memory) and the nonvolatility of flash memory. In recognition of their contributions, Fert and Grünberg shared the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics.

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McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


(SPIN elecTRONICS) Using the spin of an electron to represent binary data (0 or 1). Spintronics techniques are capable of much higher speed while requiring less power than the conventional method of using electron charges to represent data. Expected to become widely used in sensors and non-volatile memories, the first use of spintronics was in the late 1980s with the development of giant magnetoresistance (GMR) read heads for disk drives. See magnetoresistance and MRAM.
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References in periodicals archive ?
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Spintronics could surmount this approaching impasse by harnessing the spin of electrons instead of their charge.