Multiferroic technology could improve computer efficiency to the point where future processors may become 1,000 times more efficient than today. A new development from researchers at UCLA may hold the secret to that futuristic technology. 

When computers are in operation, they can grow warm. This effect has been noticed by anyone who has laid in bed, with a portable computer on their lap. This heat is produced by the processor within a computer, as it carries out mathematical functions. All of this heat represents wasted energy. 

Current processors use a multitude of microscopic transistors, which act like millions of switches within a single chip. As electrons race through the system, they produce heat as a by-product. Some of the electrons can even leak through open switches, making them impossible to turn off. 

As chips become smaller, problems with leak through and heating are becoming a more serious issue.  

Researchers were able to overcome this problem, by using multiferroic magnetic materials. This made it possible to turn these tiny transistors on and off by using alternating current, instead of DC. Traditionally, electrons move through the system using direct current, like water traveling through a pipe. Multiferroic materials use alternating current, acting like water waves, causing the rise and fall of a boat while water molecules stay essentially stationary. This behavior of electrons is known as a spin wave bus. 

"Spin waves open an opportunity to realize fundamentally new ways of computing while solving some of the key challenges faced by scaling of conventional semiconductor technology, potentially creating a new paradigm of spin-based electronics," Kang Wang of UCLA said.

The team tested the process on a logic device, a circuit design created for simple functions. A thin film made of nickel and a piezoelectric layer were used to create the alternating current. This allowed propagation of the electron waves through the processor. 

They found the new system generated much less heat than traditional designs. The same team previously developed a similar system for computer memory chips. Efficiency of computer chips could be improved 1,000 times, according to investigators. 

"Electrical control of magnetism without involving charge currents is a fast-growing area of interest in magnetics research. It can have major implications for future information processing and data-storage devices, and our recent results are exciting in that context," Pedram Khalili, co-author of the study, explained.

Details of the study were published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

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