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See Inside October 2007

The Diamond Age of Spintronics

Quantum electronic devices that harness the spins of electrons might one day enable room-temperature quantum computers—made of diamond

Diamond has a track record of extremes, including ultrahardness, higher thermal conductivity than any other solid material and transparency to ultraviolet light. In addition, diamond has recently become much more attractive for solid-state electronics, with the development of techniques to grow high-purity, single-crystal synthetic diamonds and insert suitable impurities into them (doping). Pure diamond is an electrical insulator, but doped, it can become a semiconductor with exceptional properties. It could be used for detecting ultraviolet light, ultraviolet light-emitting diodes and optics, and high-power microwave electronics. But the application that has many researchers excited is quantum spintronics, which could lead to a practical quantum computer—capable of feats believed impossible for regular computers—and ultra­secure communication.

Spintronics is an advanced form of electronics that harnesses not just the electrical charge of electrons (as in conventional electronics) but also a property called spin that makes electrons act like tiny bar magnets. Your computer probably already contains the first and most rudimentary commercial application of spintronics: since 1998 hard-drive read heads have used a spintronic effect called giant magnetoresistance to detect the microscopic magnetic domains on a disk that represent the 1s and 0s of the data it contains.

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