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How MIT Professor Uses New Spin to Build Low-power, High-performance Computer Memories

Yusuf Balogun
Yusuf Balogun
Yusuf is a law graduate and freelance journalist with a keen interest in tech reporting.

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Luqiao Liu, an associate professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT, has utilized a quantum property known as electron spin to build low-power, high-performance computer memories and programmable computer chips.

Novel materials and electron spin are combined by Luqiao Liu to provide next-generation memory technology for computers that can store more data, run more efficiently, and preserve data for longer. Liu may be seen looking around a sputtering deposition apparatus used to create thin magnetic films.

Instead of disassembling things, he is now creating next-generation electronics that consume far less power than existing devices by employing innovative materials and nanoscale production processes. He claims that curiosity is still useful, particularly given that he and his colleagues work on the relatively unexplored subject of spin electronics, which was just discovered in the 1980s.

“There are many challenges that we must overcome in our work. In spin electronics, there is still a gap between what could be done fundamentally and what has been done so far. There is a lot still to study in terms of getting better materials and finding new mechanisms so we can reach higher and higher performance,” says Liu, who is also a member of the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab.

Liu’s Path to Study Computer Hardware

Liu’s interest in spin electronics and computer memory hardware began with refrigerator magnets. When he was younger, he questioned why a magnet would adhere to the refrigerator. Early inquisitiveness sparked his interest in math and science.

His interest in magnetism and its applications in computers grew as he dug further into those areas in high school and college, learning more about physics, chemistry, and electronics. Liu discovered the ideal fit when he got the chance to pursue a Ph.D. at Cornell University and join a research team that was looking at magnetic materials.

“I spent the next five or six years looking into new and more efficient ways to generate electron spin current and use that to write information into magnetic computer memories,” he says.

Liu joined IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center after graduate school because, despite his fascination with the field of research, he wanted to try his hand at a job in the private sector. His work there concentrated on creating computer hardware with more effective magnetic random access memory.

“Making something finally work in a commercially available format is quite important, but I didn’t find myself fully engaged with that kind of fine-tuning work. I wanted to show the viability of very novel work — to prove that some new concept is possible,” says Liu as he joined MIT as an assistant professor in 2015.

Liu’s Future Outlook 

He sees antiferromagnetic materials being combined with current technology in the future to produce hybrid computer devices that perform even better. He also intends to enlarge his knowledge of quantum technology. For instance, he claims that spin electronics might be effectively employed to regulate the information flow in quantum circuits.

Signal isolation is essential for quantum computing since there can be only one path for information to travel from the quantum circuit to the external circuit. To guarantee that the signal only goes in one direction, he is investigating the utilization of a phenomenon known as a spin wave, which is the excitation of electron spin inside magnetic materials.

“We are continually exploring, delving into many exciting and challenging new topics toward the goal of making better computing memory or digital logic devices using spin electronics,” he says.

SourceMIT News


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