Researchers at the University of Kiel, Germany, have managed to use single molecules to store a bit. Present technology uses a minimum of 1-1,5 thousands molecules/atoms to store a bit, be it through a magnetic substrate or a solid state silicon memory.
For a number of years, scientists have said that it should be possible to attribute a “bit” value, 0 or 1, to the spin status of a molecule. The theory was well defined but what was missing was its implementation in practice.
This is what the group of researchers have been able to do.
Through the use of a scanning tunneling microscope the team has been able to switch the spin and hence to store and read the bit associated to a given spin.
The first goal was to find molecules that can react and can be easily single out one from the other. Once this was achieved the team had to find a way to use the electrons emitted by the scanning tunneling microscope to perform the switching of the spin.
This is the point reached so far.
The next step they are working on is to find a way to change the spin using a beam of photons (light emitted by a laser) and to operate at higher temperatures to get the same result. This would lead to a faster and more precise way to address single molecules.
So far this is basic research and any industrial exploitation is very far away. For the next 10 years we will continue to use, and evolve, present storage methods and indeed there is space to increase their performances in synch with the Moore’s law. However, in the next decade current approaches are bound to hit a wall and the continuation of the Moore’s law will require fundamentally different approaches and this is where spintronics may prove useful.
The challenge of the new technologies is to match the present technologies performance, on all axes: density (capacity), speed and most important cost.