Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rate of change: physics impresses

I thought I would catch up on a favorite topic of mine: physics and nanotechnology. I am not a scientist, but I like the stretch to understand this and as a communicator I try to imagine the implications for the future. Last November, the federal government created the National Nanotechnology Initiative and authorized $3.7 billion over the next four years for the program with the National Nanotechnology Coordinating Office.

Talk about the rate of change going ballistic - everyday breathtaking discovery is reported in the field of nanotechnology especially in an area called spintronics [where the spin of electrons, along with their charge, is harnessed to power computer chips and circuits]. This week the American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded scientists who found novel spin effects in semiconducting materials induced by electric fields along the length of the material. In this new field devices are used in the field of mass-storage devices and hard drives and are rapidly increasing along an exponential growth curve known as Kryder's Law. The doubling period for the areal density of information storage is twelve months, much shorter than Moore's Law, which observes that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every eighteen months.

For the first time, scientists [report in Nature] have created a spin triplet supercurrent through a ferromagnet over a long distance. Achieved with a magnet, the feat upends long-standing theories of quantum physics – and may be a boon to the field of spintronics.

And, investigators previously involved with the Center for Spintronics and Quantum Computation [part of the California NanoSystems Institute] say they have potentially opened up a new avenue toward room temperature quantum information processing. By demonstrating the ability to image and control single isolated electron spins in diamond, scientists have unexpectedly discovered a new channel for transferring information to other surrounding spins - an initial step towards spin-based information processing.

Bottom line: “It’s a beautiful thing,” says Gang Xiao, a Brown professor of physics and AAAS award winner. “What we’ve done was considered almost impossible. But physicists never take ‘no’ for an answer.”