Tiny magnets could power future computers

When it comes to innovation, we’re often told to think big, but the future of computer design could be really, really, small. Just a few atoms across, in fact.

Conventionally, microchips consist of transistors, which are made of silicon, and powered by running current through wires, which means they use up a lot of energy. Engineers have been looking at ways to make computing more efficient for a long time, and now a team led by Irina Eichwald from the Technical University of Munich thinks that they might have the answer.

As New Scientist reports, they’ve built a chip made of 100 nanomagnets stacked into a tiny tower which they were able to use to make a logic gate (you might remember those from school science classes). Nanomagnets have been used in computing before, but only on a flat surface, which didn’t give them enough room to function.

The German researchers got around this challenge by making the chip 3D. By holding another magnet above it, they were able to trigger the nanomagnets into changing poles, meaning that altering their magnetic field could one day be a way to translate code to hardware, no wires necessary. It could also allow for smaller, more powerful computers that also use up around 1/35th of the energy of transistors. Plus, it just sounds cute.

Image via Clarence Risher’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley