New materials could hold the key to reducing energy consumption in computers and electronics


July 13, 2023

(Nanowerk News) A team from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has, for the first time, synthesized thin layers of a unique topological semimetal material that has the potential to generate more computing power and memory storage while using significantly less energy. Researchers are also able to study the material closely, leading to some important findings about the physics behind its unique properties.

This study was published in NNatural communication (“The strong negative longitudinal magnetoresistance and spin-orbit torque at Pt3Sn and Pt3snXFe1-x semimetal topology”).

As evidenced by the recent United States CHIPS and Science Act, there is a growing need to increase semiconductor manufacturing and support the research used to develop the materials that power ubiquitous electronic devices. While traditional semiconductors are the technology behind most of today’s computer chips, scientists and engineers are always looking for new materials that can generate more power with less energy to make electronics better, smaller, and more efficient.

One candidate for these new and improved computer chips is a class of quantum materials called topological semimetals. The electrons in these materials behave in different ways, giving the material unique properties that are not shared by the common insulators and metals used in electronic devices. For this reason, they are being explored for use in spintronic devices, an alternative to traditional semiconductor devices that utilize electron spins rather than electrical charges to store data and process information.

In this new study, an interdisciplinary team of University of Minnesota researchers managed to synthesize a thin-film-like material and prove that it has the potential for high performance with low energy consumption.

“This research demonstrates for the first time that you can switch from a topologically weak insulator to a topological semimetal using a magnetic doping strategy,” said Jian-Ping Wang, senior author of the paper and McKnight University Distinguished Professor and Robert F. Hartmann Chair in the Department of Electrical Engineering and University of Minnesota computers. “We were looking for ways to extend the life of our electrical devices and at the same time lower energy consumption, and we tried to do it in a non-traditional and out-of-the-box way.”

Researchers have been working on topological materials for years, but the University of Minnesota team is the first to use a patented, industry-compatible sputtering process to fabricate this semimetal in a thin film format. Because their process is industry-compatible, said Wang, the technology can be more easily adopted and used for real-world device manufacturing.

“Every day of our lives we use electronic devices, from cell phones to dishwashers to microwaves. They all use chips. It all consumes energy,” said Andre Mkhoyan, senior author of the paper and Ray D. and Mary T. Johnson Chair and Professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. “The question is, how do we minimize that energy consumption? This research is a step in that direction. We are coming up with a new class of materials with similar or often better performance, but using less energy.”

Because researchers create high-quality materials, they can also carefully analyze their properties and what makes them so unique.

“One of the main contributions of this work from a physics perspective is that we were able to study some of the most fundamental properties of materials,” said Tony Low, senior author of the paper and Paul Palmberg Associate Professor at the University. Minnesota Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Normally, when you apply a magnetic field, the longitudinal resistance of a material will increase, but in this particular topological material, we have predicted that it will decrease. We can corroborate our theory with measured transport data and confirm that there is indeed negative resistance.”

Low, Mkhoyan, and Wang have been working together for more than a decade on topological materials for the next generation of electronic devices and systems—this research would not have been possible without combining their respective expertise in theory and computation, growth and material characterization, and fabrication. device.

“It takes not only an inspiring vision, but also a great deal of patience from four disciplines and a dedicated group of team members to work on such an important yet challenging topic that has the potential to enable the transition of technology from laboratory to industry,” said Wang. .


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