The Memory Guy today became aware of a significant breakthrough in magnetic memory technologies (MRAM) that could prove to be a big bonus for mobile applications. These memories could be used to generate power as well as to store data.
Scientists have only recently become aware of an oversight stemming from the fact that nearly all spin magnetics research has been performed in the northern hemisphere. Just as the water in a drain rotates counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere but clockwise in the southern hemisphere, the Coriolis Effect dictates that magnetic spin has the opposite sense above the equator as below.
This surprise finding was made when researchers from Stüdpfalz University of Blindman’s Bluff, Iowa, brought samples of an STT MRAM they had developed to the Magnetic Island and City of Townsville Metropolitan University in Queensland, Australia, where researchers have been producing similar magnetic memories below the equator. Until that moment neither team had thought to question the magnetic moment of their devices. “We were suddenly struck by a striking thought,” said project lead Dr. Irving Ubundy, “that this was a new direction that we should strike out into.”
A campaign was started to build a wafer of spin bits in the southern hemisphere and then ship the wafer to the northern hemisphere to have another layer of bits deposited on top. The opposite direction was also tried, and found to work as well.
Further collaboration revealed that when these two different spin directions, which the researchers have dubbed “Spin” and “Anti-Spin” come into contact they mutually destroy each other releasing tremendous energy, similar to the situation when matter and antimatter combine. “We determined that this phenomenon, if properly managed, could reduce or even eliminate the need for rechargeable batteries in smart phones and other portable electronic devices.”
But this technique poses an important challenge: The devices with opposite spins had to be isolated from one another and this isolation must be controlled to ensure that energy is produced at a steady rate. To manage the problem the researchers found that an eludium barrier could be used to keep the two spins from destroying one another.
There are other interesting side-benefits of this work. The research teams have been shopping the idea around to various universities’ computer science departments to learn other ways in which this sort of memory could be used to advance computer architecture. Said Ubundy: “One researcher, I forget where, told us that she could use our discovery to completely change the memory hierarchy in conventional Von Neumann machines.” Rather than dividing memory space into Physical and Virtual pages, this researcher proposed something she called Real and Imaginary pages to better manage the memory hierarchy. “She called it ‘Command Paging.’”
This isn’t the first time researchers have thought of generating electricity within the handset by using geophysical phenomena. “Another approach we conceived, but never developed, is to use the earth’s magnetic poles as the permanent magnets for a dynamo,” said U. D. Hu, a researcher at The Magnetic Studies Institute at Ellesmere Island, Canada. This concept would use the same principals as the Earth Inductor Compass in Charles Lindburgh’s airplane “The Spirit of St. Louis” by rotating an armature through the earth’s magnetic field rapidly enough to generate a useful current. “We found that the required speed of rotation became an issue, though, as the handset’s user would need to rotate at more than 1,000 RPM to generate sufficient current to operate the unit.” This other type of “Spin” was subsequently abandoned.
A tip of the hat to Wayne Rickard who discovered this fascinating research while performing Internet searches on cat videos.