Highlights from a year of excellence in research

Collage of Annual Report story images

Last month, the University of Minnesota’s annual State of Research report highlighted a research enterprise that continues to grow, driven by greater diversification of funding sources and enhanced public-private partnership.

The report, produced by the Office of the Vice President for Research, also highlighted several ongoing research projects that are advancing knowledge across a wide variety of fields. These efforts are shedding light on youth brain function, boosting computing technology, exploring new mining processes and improving transportation systems.

Below, Inquiry explores each of these projects and their potential to benefit society. Continue reading

A new spin on computer technology

Binary code

By Mike Lotti

Spintronic computers, featuring zero boot-up time, ultra-low energy use and high processing speeds, aren’t available to consumers yet. But the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spintronic Materials, Interfaces, and Novel Architectures (C-SPIN) has been guiding a national “dream team” of researchers since 2013 to accelerate progress toward spintronic computing.

Spintronic promise

Here’s an overview of how this breakthrough technology works. Your computer, tablet, smart phone, and even calculator are basically machines that encode and process ones and zeros in the form of electric current. But all those electrons moving around cause heat, and it’s getting harder and harder to make electric devices small enough to meet the ongoing demand for more computing power in less space. The spintronic solution is to rethink ones and zeros as the “up” or “down” orientation of electrons in ultra-small magnets. Want a one? Make two magnets point “up.” Want a zero? Make them point in opposite directions. No moving electrons, very little heat, lots of room to cram magnets together. What’s not to like?

While the theory behind spintronic computing is solid, the technology to carry out the theory is still being developed in the lab. For example, C-SPIN researchers are exploring topics such as “What materials are best for recording a magnetic one and zero?” “What’s the most energy-efficient way to switch a one to a zero and vice versa?” “How can spin-based information be easily transferred from one part of a computer to another?”

Continue reading