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Assessment of Japanese and European Research and Development in Spin Electronics

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Assessment of Japanese and European Research and Development in Spin Electronics Download the Full Report (988Kb)

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Purpose and Scope

The goal of this study is to gather information and disseminate it to the research community on the status and trends in Japanese and European research and development in the field of spin electronics in comparison to U.S. activities in this field. Spin electronics is also known as magneto-electronics, spintronics, and magnetronics.

Portable communication systems demand the miniaturization and integration of low-power electronic devices. At the same time, faster devices are needed to process information. The confluence of the semiconductor industry and the magnetic storage industry has recently been triggered by the discovery and adoption of giant magnetoresistive (GMR) devices. Researchers from throughout the world are defining a new technology area called spin electronics, where it is not the electron charge but the electron spin that carries information. Further, spin electronics combines standard microelectronics with spin-dependent effects that arise from the interaction between electrons and a magnetic field. Thus the combination of bandgap engineering and integrated magnetics offers remarkable opportunities for a new generation of devices with completely different functionality. Furthermore, magnetic interaction lengths are small. Therefore spin electronics devices will be able to achieve high integration densities. Thus they will naturally start immediately utilizing new techniques developed under the National Nanotechnology Initiative, and provide a significant economic push to its utilization. Spin electronic fabrication processes are compatible with those currently used for semiconductor microelectronics. Researchers and technologists throughout the world, but most significantly from Japan, Western Europe and the United States, expect that an industrial shift from semiconductor devices to magnetic devices will take place to meet the demands of information technology in the 21st Century. Spin electronics is viewed as one of the next strategic industries, and major investments are being made by the Japanese government and industry, and Western Europe (including EU funding agencies). The advantages of magnetic devices would be non-volatility, increased data processing speed, decreased electric power consumption, and increased integration densities compared to semiconductor devices. The expected market is over $50 billion annually, and research advances promise breakthroughs that can have a pervasive impact on the storage and processing needs for information technology. In addition to storage applications, spin electronic elements will result in new approaches to logic design, quantum computing, and quantum communications.

Research in metallic multilayer giant magneto-resistive (GMR) structures and their integration into various magnetic random access memory (MRAM) configurations continues to be a highly active area; however, the promise of orders-of-magnitude larger signal-to-noise in magneto-tunneling devices has resulted, over the past two years, in major research investment by the private sector (e.g., IBM, NVE, Motorola) and academic institutions.

High interest in the utility of semiconductors as both sources and carriers of spin information has been sparked by two recent discoveries. The first of these, by Awschalom and coworkers, demonstrated that optically injected spin-polarized carriers maintain their coherence over nanosecond time scales. This means that they can be transported over distances far in excess of nanometers, making the transport of coherent spin information from device to device a practical reality. The second discovery, by Ohno and coworkers in Japan, resulted in the fabrication of low concentration Mn substitution in GaAs epilayers with ferromagnetic ordering temperatures in excess of 100K. Other semiconducting materials with Tc higher than room temperature are in the offing. Thus the natural integration of spin sensitive and normal semiconductor functionality will soon be realized.

A comparative assessment will be undertaken of U.S., Japanese, and European research and development in this field, which will provide the international research community with an evaluation of the state-of-the-art and future prospects for progress in theory and applications. The study will identify Japanese and European research centers of excellence that have major program initiatives in spin electronics; some of these will be visited by members of the WTEC expert panel, while information on others will be gathered through secondary sources. The study panelists will have as their mission to critically analyze and compare the research in the United States with that being pursued in Japan and Europe. The United States needs information on these results and on any planned programs. This information will serve the following purposes:


The panel will confine its study to those activities loosely described as "spin electronics" that are not mature, and that reflect the most advanced research and development activities currently and for the next several years.

The panel will address electronics, photonics, and magnetism aspects of spin electronics. A detailed outline of the panel's scope was be finalized at the study kickoff meeting based on discussion among panelists and sponsors (see pointer to minutes from that Dec. 14, 2000 meeting, above). A preliminary list of specific technical topics to be addressed includes the following:

  1. Fabrication of magnetic nanostructures. This might include bulk new materials, thin films and heterostructures, and multiphase materials.
  2. Magnetism and spin control in magnetic nanostructures. This section will be devoted primarily to theoretical aspects of: exchange in diluted magnetic semiconductors; interface magnetism; tunneling effects; and spin injection, transport, and detection.
  3. Magneto-electronics and devices -- GMR, tunneling devices; semiconductor heterostructures for spin injection, transport, and detection; also gated ferromagnetism.
  4. Magneto-optical properties of semiconductors -- DC and time-resolved magneto-optics of magnetic semiconductor heterostructures; optical spin injection and detection, optically induced ferromagnetism; and ultra fast magneto-optical switches. This section will also discuss transmission of quantum information.
  5. Characterization, imaging and metrology -- including magnetic characterization and the anomalous Hall effect.
  6. Device systems and applications.

The panel will provide the sponsors and the public with a cohesive report on the comparative merits of research, development and commercial application activities in the United States vis-a-vis Japan and Europe. The report, however, will focus mainly on spin electronics related phenomena in semiconductors.

In addition to the above technical issues, the panel will also address the following non-technical issues:


Stephan von Molnar
[photo: Stephan Molnar]
Dept. of Physics
Florida State University
406 Keen Building
Tallahassee, FL 32306-4350
David Awschalom
[photo: David Awschalom]
Physics Dept
University of California
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9530
Robert A. Buhrman
[photo: Robert A. Buhrman]
Dept of Applied & Engineering Physics
Cornell University
211 Clark Hall
Ithaca, NY 14852
Michael L. Roukes
[photo: Michael L. Roukes]
Dept of Physics
Caltech 114-36
Pasadena, CA 91125 USA
Dr. Jim Daughton NVE


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