Boffins seek to exploit electron spin

Scientists are seeking to build a silicon-based nanoscale system which aims to harness the 'spin' of electrons to boost the processing power of future computer systems.

A three-year project, which has just received funding of £1 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), aims to build the world’s first silicon-based integrated single-spin quantum bit system.

The system is is being developed by researchers at the University of Southampton, jointly with the University of Cambridge, the NTT Basic Research Laboratories and the Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory.

According to Professor Hiroshi Mizuta, Head of the Nano Research Group at the University’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), the system will enable researchers working with silicon to initialise, manipulate and read single-electron 'spin' states rather than just charge states.

Currently, it has only proved possible to capture electronic charge. The advantage of employing spin rather than charge is that spin can maintain coherence and is hardly destroyed by interference in silicon or graphene.

The approach may enable the development of novel nanospintronic devices - nanoscale circuits that could use the spin of the individual electrons to transmit, store and process information. In principle, such devices could "dramatically enhance scaling of functional density and performance while simultaneously reducing the energy dissipated per functional operation", the researchers say.

As well as boosting the processing power of conventional computers, this could also be used in quantum computing.

"This project is a paradigm shift in information and communication technology," said Professor Mizuta. "It is not just an extension of existing silicon technology; we have introduced a completely new principle based on quantum mechanics, which will make it possible for industry to continue to use silicon as devices get smaller."

The researchers aim to develop an integrated single-spin information processing technology, which will provide a unique solution to massively-parallel and highly-secure information processing technology in the beyond CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor) era.

There's a handy backgrounder to electron spin in this pdf.