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Scientists create first-ever 3D microchip

Posted: 04 Feb 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D microchip  digital data  spintronic  sputtering  MOKE 

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have created what they claim as first ever 3D microchip. The new type of microchip allows information to travel in three dimensions.

Currently, microchips can only pass digital information from either left to right or front to back. The new chip is able to pass the digital data across several layers.

Researchers believe that in the future a 3D microchip would enable additional storage capacity on chips by allowing information to be spread across several layers instead of being compacted into one layer, as is currently the case.

The Cambridge scientists used a special type of microchip, called a spintronic chip, which exploits the electron's tiny magnetic moment or 'spin' (unlike the majority of today's chips which use charge-based electronic technology).

To create the microchip, they used an experimental technique called 'sputtering'. They sandwiched cobalt, platinum and ruthenium atoms on a silicon chip. The cobalt and platinum atoms store the digital information in a similar way to how a hard disc drive stores data. The ruthenium atoms act as messengers, communicating that information between neighbouring layers of cobalt and platinum. Each of the layers is only a few atoms thick.

The scientists, then, used a laser technique called 'MOKE' to probe the data content of the different layers. As they switched a magnetic field on and off they saw in the MOKE signal the data climbing layer by layer from the bottom of the chip to the top. They then confirmed the results using a different measurement method.

"Each step on our spintronic staircase is only a few atoms high," said Professor Russell Cowburn, lead researcher of the study from the Cavendish Laboratory, the University of Cambridge's Department of Physics. "I find it amazing that by using nanotechnology not only can we build structures with such precision in the lab but also using advanced laser instruments we can actually see the data climbing this nano-staircase step by step."

"This is a great example of the power of advanced materials science. Traditionally, we would use a series of electronic transistors to move data like this. We've been able to achieve the same effect just by combining different basic elements such as cobalt, platinum and ruthenium."

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