Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin

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hzbEMIL • Watching the Secret Lives of Atoms

From Solar Cells to Green IT - New Materials for Energy Transition

authored 2 years ago:

You Spin Me Round

We all know how it feels to spin round like a record, right round, right round. Physics tells us electrons do the same, don't they? Well, in fact electrons don’t have any volume and sometimes even behave like waves, so they just can’t spin like us. But they have this quantum mechanical property with two separated states (“spin up”, “spin down”). Although it is difficult to interpret it in a classical way; scientists use its non-classical behaviour for technologies. They expand traditional electronics by using the spin of electrons to store or/and compute data and call it spintronics. This is a vivid research field with many different approaches in terms of materials and applications.

The most famous effect is the Giant magnetoresistance (GMR). Nowadays, it is used to read out our hard disks in PCs. In 2007, Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg received the Nobel prize for the discovery of the GMR. And the number of possible applications, from sensors to quantum computing together with topological insulators, seems to grow rapidly. Why is spintronics so attractive? Using the spin is not just about new, quantum mechanical effects. It also allows you to process more data and is more effective because you are able to control magnetic properties via electric fields, this is key to save energy. In our modern world, this is good for the environment and also the electricity bill.

To implement spintronics in every day devices, scientists are looking for new materials. For example it is important to realise spintronical effects at room temperature. Maybe EMIL, with its unique features, gives scientists a hint.