Since the late 1960s, electronic devices have stored and transmitted information (bits) in 2D circuits. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have been able to break this barrier by creating a nanoscale magnetic circuit capable of moving information along the three dimensions of space. This breakthrough could lead to an important increase in storage and processing capacities of electronic devices over the ones used today.
The information revolution that has shaped society into what it is today has been based on the traditional printing of ever-shrinking electronic components. With the current technologies reaching the limits of what physics allows, researchers are starting to explore the third dimension in search for a route to continue improving the electronic devices in our pockets.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge (UK) and TU Eindoven (Netherlands) have demonstrated how it is possible to create functional circuits that can process information with the most advanced techniques in 3D-nanoprinting with traditional methods.
"We demonstrate a new way to fabricate and use a magnetic device which, in a nanometric scale, can controllably move information along the three dimensions of space," said Amalio Fernández-Pacheco, principal investigator of the project at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge.
To create the nano-magnets in 3D, an electron microscope is used along with a gas injector to 3D-print a suspended scaffold on a traditional 2D silicon substrate. After 3D nano-printing, a magnetic material is deposited over the whole ensemble to allow information transport.
By combining a very precise fabrication protocol with a tailor-made laser system, the authors have been able to demonstrate the detection of structures which are almost completely suspended and have widths of only 300 nanometers.
"In this work not only we demonstrate a big leap in nanofabrication capacities, but also, importantly, we have developed a system which allows us to look at these tiny devices in a relatively simple way," said Dédalo Sanz-Hernández, leader of this work.
"The information within the device can be read using a single laser in dark-field configuration (a technique designed to isolate small objects from bright backgrounds)," he explained.
The breakthrough is part of a broader field of what is known as "spintronics." Spintronic technologies exploit the electrical charge electrons to store and process information but also their spin, which allows the development of electronic circuits that benefit from greater energy efficiency than current technologies.
"Projects such as this one open the path to the development of a completely new generation of magnetic devices that can store move and process information in a very efficient way by exploiting the three dimensions of space"," said Fernández-Pacheco.
The paper on this research was published in ACS Nano.