Magnetic Logic Attracts Money

DARPA funds spintronic and nanomagnet research teams to create low-power nonvolatile logic

4 min read

4 January 2011—The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants a new type of computer logic. It will rely on magnetism instead of electricity to do its job, and its developers say this difference could one day allow computers to run on a fraction of the energy now required. Some even predict that the change will make booting your computer a near instantaneous affair. The defense agency has doled out US $8.4 million for a four-year ”spintronics” project led by the University of California, Los Angeles, and $9.9 million for ”nanomagnet” research led by the University of Notre Dame. Both groups aim to build a basic magnetic logic circuit.

Right now, it’s impossible to have true instant-on computers, in part because today’s volatile processors forget what they’re working on as soon as they lose power. The chips forget because they depend on the flow of electric current. When the power disappears, the flow of charge stops, as does any progress on the processing task. When the power returns, the circuit must essentially start from scratch, using information stored separately from the CPU in nonvolatile memory—and that takes time.

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The Ultimate Transistor Timeline

The transistor’s amazing evolution from point contacts to quantum tunnels

1 min read
A chart showing the timeline of when a transistor was invented and when it was commercialized.

Even as the initial sales receipts for the first transistors to hit the market were being tallied up in 1948, the next generation of transistors had already been invented (see “The First Transistor and How it Worked.”) Since then, engineers have reinvented the transistor over and over again, raiding condensed-matter physics for anything that might offer even the possibility of turning a small signal into a larger one.

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