The information age may soon be coming to an end, only to be replaced by the Multiferroics Age. What exactly is multiferroics? Well, be darned if I know. But what I do know is that a very well-respected expert named Nicola Spaldin believes that it will take computing to the next quantum level and unleash levels of computing power at microscopic levels that are just not possible with silicon-based processors.
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As powerful computers become more widespread, the amount of power they consume will increase. If Moore’s exponential law continues, electronic devices will consume more than half the planet’s energy budget within a couple of decades.
That’s clearly unsustainable. So what to do?
Today we get an answer of sorts from Nicola Spaldin, a materials scientist at ETH Zurich, in Switzerland. Spaldin argues that materials scientists can save the planet, and their solution will be in the form of a fundamental breakthrough that changes the way we think about information technology and the way we use it. She makes the argument—and points to one or two potential avenues for this breakthrough—in a highly entertaining paper…….
……A great deal of silicon-based information processing and storage relies on magnetic properties that must be manipulated with magnetic fields. The ability to do that more efficiently with electric fields is potentially transformative. “Replacing the magnetic fields in our existing magnetism-based technologies with electric fields offers tremendous opportunity for energy savings, miniaturization, and efficiency,” she says.
Multiferroics have other useful properties. Inside these materials, ferroelectric dipoles can line up with different orientations. Dipoles that are aligned form regions called domains and the borders between these domains turn out to be interesting.
Spaldin says these borders form conducting channels than can be moved and rearranged using electric fields. “This has potential application in novel memory or information processing architectures,” she says.
The surface of these multiferroic materials also have curious electronic properties that can be manipulated to catalyze reactions such as water splitting.
“Our new multiferroic materials are poised to enable new device paradigms, and in turn entirely new ways of designing technologies,” she says. “Perhaps we are about to enter a new Multiferroics Age?”
Gone would be our reliance on silicon and instead we will be dependent on an industry producing erbium manganate or yttrium manganate or bismuth ferrite and a new generation of highly energy efficient information-processing devices.