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Cambridge researchers unveil 3D microchip

Cambridge researchers unveil 3D microchip

The University of Cambridge has unveiled the first truly three-dimensional microchip, based around spintronic - rather than electronic - technologies.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge have created what they claim is the world's first true three-dimensional microchip using spintronic technology.

While devices such as Intel's tri-gate transistors, as found in the Ivy Bridge family of processors, and associated FinFETs are often billed as being three dimensional, in truth their interconnections are as two-dimensionally planar as anything that has come before. The prototype device created at Cambridge, however, is truly 3D in its operation. 'Today’s chips are like bungalows – everything happens on the same floor,' explained Reinhoud Lavrijsen, one of the authors of the paper describing the research, in a news posting. 'We’ve created the stairways allowing information to pass between floors.'

The prototype device ditches traditional electronics for spintronics, which exploit the magnetic spin of an electron rather than its charge. One of the technologies tipped to replace traditional dynamic RAM (DRAM) in the near future, the spintronic chip was created from layers of cobalt, platinum and ruthenium atoms deposited on a silicon chip in a process that goes by the not-terribly-scientific-sounding name of 'sputtering.' The data is stored on the cobalt and platinum atoms, while the ruthenium acts as a network between layers.

Reading the data back with a laser - the first hint that the group's work is currently only lab-ready, rather than commercially exploitable - the team saw the data climb up each layer from the bottom of the chip to the top as a magnetic field was toggled. Dubbed a 'spintronic staircase,' the system proved that a three-dimensional chip was viable.

Not to be confused with chip-stacking technologies, like the through-silicon vias used in Micron's Hybrid Memory Cubes, the research promises to create truly three-dimensional arrays on a single silicon wafer. 'Each step on our spintronic staircase is only a few atoms high,' boasted Russel Cowburn, lead researcher of the study and professor at the University of Cambridge's Department of Physics. 'This is a great example of the power of advanced materials science. Traditionally, we would use a series of electronic transistors to move data like this. We’ve been able to achieve the same effect just by combining different basic elements such as cobalt, platinum and ruthenium. This is the 21st century way of building things – harnessing the basic power of elements and materials to give built-in functionality.'

The team hopes that its research could lead to high-performance and high-density spintronic memory chips, but it's clear that work still needs to be done on bringing the technology to market.

9 Comments

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Hustler 4th February 2013, 11:47 Quote
"but it's clear that work still needs to be done on bringing the technology to market. "


..which is the one part where UK innovators have been so spectacularly unsuccessful down the years.

Innovation..we're brilliant at it, second to none, making money...useless.



No doubt this will be exploited by the Americans and Asians.
Lenderz 4th February 2013, 12:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hustler
"but it's clear that work still needs to be done on bringing the technology to market. "


..which is the one part where UK innovators have been so spectacularly unsuccessful down the years.

Innovation..we're brilliant at it, second to none, making money...useless.



No doubt this will be exploited by the Americans and Asians.

So horribly accurate. Great at ideas not so good at ongoing investment and application of those ideas to make £.
Cheapskate 4th February 2013, 20:03 Quote
*Platinum.

-Nope. I don't see it becoming commercially viable for a while.
siliconfanatic 4th February 2013, 20:44 Quote
You have any idea how litle that would affect cost? When you get down to the nanometer level...

What with how hairbrained economics are it could cost more if it were made out of copper

Too bad... at one time it would've been the US waiving both that banner and making it practical. It really saddens me how far we've let our once-glorious country slip. :(

90% of americans really need a grand WAKE.UP. slap upside our ignorant, overly privelidged, whiney heads. All but the very cream of america has sank to this in just a few presidencies.
schmidtbag 4th February 2013, 20:57 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheapskate
*Platinum.

-Nope. I don't see it becoming commercially viable for a while.

lol platinum is what makes you think this won't be commercially viable? Platinum is rare and expensive but ruthenium is considerably more rare. I think it's cheaper due to lower demand (it's hard to find demand for something that acts similarly to platinum and is even more rare).

@siliconfanatic
what do americans and their presidents have anything to do with the article?
siliconfanatic 4th February 2013, 23:19 Quote
one of the other posters mentioned the UK as an innovation giant. In our heyday that was the US. what i said is it merely took a few seperate presidencies(said nothing of the actual presidents) to go from that to... this *gestures at the pile of crud we have come to call america* i replied that platinum wouldn't make too much of a price difference then went on a mini-rant bout how we were so great then bam... posts being patriotic about how good the UK is in the intellectual dept reminds me of that kind of stuff.
schmidtbag 4th February 2013, 23:55 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by siliconfanatic
one of the other posters mentioned the UK as an innovation giant. In our heyday that was the US. what i said is it merely took a few seperate presidencies(said nothing of the actual presidents) to go from that to... this *gestures at the pile of crud we have come to call america*

I don't think inventions and innovations have anything to do with what country you come from. Of course there are factors such as education, funding, motivation, and lifestyle, but many of the best ideas came from people who did poorly in school, started out in their parents' basement, and/or had no respect for authority. That being said, I like it when I see a huge success come out of a smaller country. Anyways, the problem is corporations. They only want what is known to be profitable and considering the economy, people aren't willing to take risks on something that they can't prove is desirable. It's a real shame most people tend to care more about profits than making a difference.
Griffter 5th February 2013, 08:27 Quote
but will it play crysis?
sixfootsideburns 5th February 2013, 18:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Griffter
but will it play crysis?

Finally... someone is getting at the important questions...

sheesh...
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