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Racetrack memory research points to materials breakthrough

Faster, higher capacity, lower power data storage could be on the horizon following work by researchers from the universities of Glasgow and Leeds.

The teams have been working on racetrack memory, in which electricity passing through lines of stationary nanowires creates ‘domain walls’ – spaces between the wires where data can be stored. While this is not a new development, the researchers say one key question still being explored is which materials will enable the most robust system.

The team from Glasgow and Leeds used electron microscopy to look at the structure of thin films deposited by sputtering from platinum, cobalt and aluminium oxide – a type of film suggested by other researchers as being potentially useful; tests have shown that it allows data, encoded in spinning electrons, to travel at high speed along the nanowires.

Dr Stephen McVitie, pictured, senior lecturer in Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “What we’ve been able to show for the first time is that these films, made with deposition methods suited to mass production, actually support chiral walls, as demonstrated from our microscopy and magnetic measurements methods.

“It’ll be a while yet before new types of data storage based on these principles are available commercially, but this research is an important step towards faster, larger, less power hungry forms of storage.”

Graham Pitcher

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