A team of engineers from Northwestern University in the US and the University of Messina in Italy has established a system that could overcome the ‘memory bottleneck’ that currently limits the capabilities of existing computing hardware, which cannot keep up with the rapid advancements in data-centric computing.
Using antiferromagnetic (AFM) materials, the international team developed the world’s smallest device of this kind with the capabilities of writing data using a record-low electrical current. This magnetic memory device is considered to be a viable solution to the ever-increasing need for increased power, storage, and speed, as data-centric computing continues to evolve at rapid rates.
Hardware Limits Potential of Data-Centric Computing
Recent years have seen the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) out of developments being made in the field of big data. This establishment of AI is infiltrating all industries and is fundamentally changing how we use technology. It’s drastically advanced how we create networks and store data, however, as this side of the technology continues to evolve, it is facing limitations posed by the hardware that is being used to support it. Currently, hardware that was built for the previous generation of computing is still being relied upon to sustain the boom in data-centric computing, but its storage, power, and speed confines are preventing data-centric computing from reaching its full potential.
The technology that has been developed by the US/Italian team proposes a solution to this key industry challenge. In a paper published this month in the journal Nature Electronics, the team describes how they innovated their device with the help of antiferromagnetic (AFM) materials.
Storing Data In Magnetic Fields
For AI to work to its full potential it requires a system that integrates all the capabilities of the latest technology in memory, such as the speed of static random access memory (SRAM), the storage capacity of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) or Flash, along with incredibly low power dissipation.
The engineering team recognized that there was no existing technology that integrated all of these capabilities into one single system. The impact of this was that AI applications were limited by what was termed as a ‘memory bottleneck’.
The team aimed to address this limitation, and AFM materials were looked to, to provide a solution. The electrons within AFM materials have particular properties that make them useful for designed next-generation technologies. Due to “spin”, a quantum mechanical property, the atoms in AFM materials act like magnets. This means that while the bulk material does not have macroscopic magnetization, as the spins of the atoms are aligned in antiparallel, the atoms demonstrate magnetically ordered spins. It is this feature that has made them desirable for creating next-generation electronics.
An electrical current is generally required for the storage of data in classical memory devices. AFM materials, however, replace the reliance on an electrical current, using their magnetically ordered spins to retain the stored data instead. This eliminates the need for a continuous supply of electrical current. Also, AFM-based devices do not interact with magnetic fields because of their densely packed electrons, meaning that the devices can be designed to be both incredibly small and secure, with external, magnetic fields having no impact on the stored data.
While previous research exploring into the use of AFM materials in this capacity has failed to control the magnetic order within the materials, the current findings demonstrate a system that has overcome this problem and has developed AFM materials for use in creating a successful data storage device that is fast and secure, with low power demands.
What’s important in what was achieved by the US/Italian team is that the device they established is easily compatible with semiconductor manufacturing practices that are already established within the industry. Therefore, the technology could be adopted by manufacturing companies without the need for major investments in new equipment.
The next steps will be working on making the devices smaller, and discovering more energy-efficient techniques of writing data into the AFM materials. Once these goals have been reached we can expect these devices to become widely adopted, likely having a significant impact on the sectors of security, healthcare, and transportation, to name a few.