Ohio State University researchers have made nearly all the moving electrons inside a sample of plastic spin in the same direction — an effect called spin polarisation that could yield plastic memories.
Arthur Epstein, professor of physics and chemistry and director of Ohio State's Center for Materials Research, and his co-authors report achieving spin polarisation using a magnetic field. The team says this is the first step in converting the plastic into a device that could read and write spin-electronic or spintronic data in a working computer.
Prof Epstein has been working with colleagues to develop plastic electronics since the 1980s. His most recent work produced a plastic magnet.
He said: "Electronics and magnetism have transformed modern society. The advent of plastic electronics opens up many opportunities for new technologies such as flexible displays and inexpensive solar cells."
He believes that with this latest study, his team has shown that all of the components that go into spintronics can be made from plastics: "So it is timely to bring all these components together to make plastic spintronics."
Spintronics with traditional inorganic semiconductors is difficult because most such materials are only magnetic at very low temperatures. Creating the cold environment needed would be expensive and space-consuming.
The researchers used a plastic called vanadium tetracyanoethanide. The material is magnetic at high temperatures, and would be suitable for use inside a computer operating above room temperature.
Conventional electronics encodes computer data based on a binary code of ones and zeros, depending on whether an electron is present in a void within the material. Spintronics is a newer branch of electronics research in which electron spin, as well as charge, is manipulated to yield a desired outcome.
Because the spin orientation of conduction electrons survives for a relatively long time, spintronic devices are particularly attractive for memory storage and magnetic sensors applications and potentially for quantum computing, as spin is used extensively in research in this area.
According to Prof Epstein, plastic spintronic devices would weigh less than traditional electronic ICs and cost less to manufacture. He suggests that inexpensive inkjet technology could one day be used to quickly print entire sheets of plastic semiconductors for spintronics.
Prof Epstein and his colleagues are currently working to transfer spin-encoded electrons through a layered stack of different magnetic and non-magnetic polymers.