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Breakthroughs in magnetism will change storage and computing

News Analysis
Jan 10, 20183 mins
Data Center

Solid-state memory hold your horses. Magnetic media isn’t dead yet. Neural networks and vast efficiencies are coming to help out the aging technology.

seagate barracuda pro 12tb
Credit: Seagate

If you thought storage was trending towards solid-state mediums and that magnetic drives were edging out, you may want to pause a moment. A slew of scientific breakthroughs in magnetism as it relates to storage and computing were announced last year.

The multiple Eureka moments could change how we compute and perform Internet of Things and might, in one case, introduce magnet-driven neural networks — which is computing that mimics how the brain processes things.

3D magnets

First on the list was last November’s announcement of the invention of 3D nano-magnets that shift data transfers from traditional two dimensions to three dimensions. This kind of add-on could significantly increase storage and processing functions, say its inventors at the University of Cambridge in an article published by Sinc.

It’s “the development of a completely new generation of magnetic devices,” says Amalio Fernández-Pacheco. They “can store move and process information in a very efficient way by exploiting the three dimensions of space.”

Magnetic system turns heat into motion

Also announced late last year, this time by Exeter University, is a new magnetic system that turns heat into motion. The physics-based transformation could turn out to be a practical way of running minuscule IoT device actuators and sensors. Not only that, but the design could also be used in magnetic memory, where information could be stored via laser-driven heating — the lasers write the memory with heat.

The device, known as a thermal ratchet, is 200 times thinner than the human hair and uses “frustrated magnetic materials.” It’s known as “artificial spin ice,” says Sebastian Gliga, lead author of the study and Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow, in an article published by University of Exeter.

Copying the brain

A third invention, also announced last November, is a way to write magnetic patterns onto nanowires. That could aid computers in functioning by mimicking the human brain, claim its researchers at Imperial College London.

“With this new writing method, we open up research into training these magnetic nanowires to solve useful problems,” says Dr. Jack Gartside, first author and a member of the physics department at Imperial College London, in an article published by the school. “If successful, this will bring hardware neural networks a step closer to reality.” 

Saving power using low-power magnetic storage

Also, don’t forget the couple of inventions I wrote about last summer: Low-power magnetic storage may be obtainable through a kind of magnetic rotation called chirality — the magnetic waves rotate in a vortex a bit like how water drains through a plug, which the inventors claim saves power.

And then there’s also the magnetism breakthrough in MRAM, which promises to “reduce bit-reading and -writing energy consumption by a factor of 10,000 or more.” According to its creators at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, the MELRAM variant uses magnetism in two binary-directions.

Harnessing magnetic disturbances

Finally, one can add to the list a new way to harness small disturbances in magnetic orientation. It rounds out the pack of new technologies. The “swirls” of magnetic disruptions, called “skyrmions,” MIT News wrote in October, can store data for a long time without one having to add energy.

We’ve known about them for a while, but they’ve not been able to be ordered before — a requisite for data storage. “This is a significant breakthrough,” says Geoffrey Beach, MIT associate professor of materials science and engineering.


Patrick Nelson was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Patrick Nelson and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.