UTSA uses graphene to harness the spin of electrons to power tech devices

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Building on the Air Force’s need to develop tech devices that require minimal charging in the field, the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is using principles in quantum science and engineering to build a graphene-based logic device. This new technology will improve the energy efficiency of battery-dependent devices from cell phones to computers.

“We are developing devices that can operate almost battery-less,” said Ethan Ahn, UTSA assistant professor in electrical engineering.

UTSA engineers are using spintronics, the study of an electron’s intrinsic quantum mechanical property called spin, to allow low-power operation with a possible application in quantum computing.

“An electron is a little, but very strong magnet,” said Ahn. “Just imagine that an electron spins on its own axis, either up or down.”

Traditional tech devices use the electronic charge of electrons for power. In spintronics, researchers are tapping the inherent spin of electrons as a new power source. With this new approach, devices will require fewer electrons to operate.

There are hurdles, however, in harnessing the power of spin. In quantum computing that harnesses spin of electrons to transmit information, the challenge for researchers is how to capture spin as efficiently as possible.

“If you have 100 electrons injected to the channel to power the next logic circuit, you may only get to use one or two spins because the injection efficiency is very low. This is 98 percent spin lost,” said Ahn.

To prevent the loss of spin, Ahn has developed the new idea of the “zero-power carbon interconnect” by using nanomaterials as both the spin transport channel and the tunnel barrier. These nanomaterials are like a sheet of paper, a two-dimensional layer of carbon atoms just a few nanometers in thickness, and it’s the point of contact where spin injection is inputted into the device. Ahn’s prototype is an interconnect built with a reduced graphene oxide layer.

“It’s novel because we are using graphene, a nanomaterial, to enhance spin injection. By controlling the amount of oxide on the graphene layers, we can fine tune electrons’ conductivity,” said Ahn.

Graphene has widespread appeal because it’s the world’s strongest nanomaterial. In fact, the room temperature conductivity of graphene is higher than that of any other known material.

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About the National Graphene Association (NGA)

The National Graphene Association is the main organization and body in the U.S. advocating and promoting the commercialization of graphene. NGA is focused on addressing critical issues such as policy and standards development that will result in effective integration of graphene and graphene based materials globally. NGA brings together current and future graphene stakeholders — entrepreneurs, companies, researchers, developers and suppliers, investors, venture capitalists and government agencies — to drive innovation, and to promote and facilitate the commercialization of graphene products and technologies.

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