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Racetrack Memory Could Create Faster and Smaller Storage

There’s a huge desire from manufacturers to make storage as small and quick as possible. The amount of data that the world is producing is growing rapidly, showing no signs of stopping, and we need somewhere to store it all. Consider your smartphone or laptop, likely packed with photos, videos, along with non-personal data like the operating system’s storage files. If manufacturers want to make these devices smaller and slimmer, but also want to be able to offer ample data storage, they need the drives to get smaller.

This is why researchers have been looking for ways to improve these storage technologies. Making them faster yet smaller. A potential new breakthrough in this field comes from the Scientific Reports journal with something called racetrack memory.

The research was carried out by fellows at New York University, the University of Virginia, the University of California, San Diego, the University of Colorado, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Their shared goal was to create a new digital memory format. Their specific focus was on a “skyrmion racetrack memory”, which is a type of memory that flips existing storage solutions on their head.

Some mass storage devices work by moving a material with a motor across a reader. Racetrack memory is different because the material being read stays in place and the information is moved across the reader, without any mechanical parts.

This is similar to something like a flash drive, which also has no mechanical parts – a common example of that would be a SSD, which you also likely have in your laptop if it was bought recently. However, the difference here is that the information is carried by a skyrmion, which is a magnetic object that can be moved by applying a stimulus like a current pulse.

This skyrmion spins like a ball, which represents information that can be moved, created and erased with electrical pulses. They can be very small and moved very quickly, all for little energy exertion, which means they can be used for a fast and high-density storage solution, all the while saving energy too.

“We found that small skyrmions are only stable in very specific material environments, so identifying the ideal materials that can host skyrmions and the circumstances under which they are created is a first priority for making the technology applicable,” says NYU Physics Professor Andrew Kent, the paper’s senior author. “This has been the focus of our research thus far.”

Ferrimagnets are magnetic materials that create only small magnetic fields and these are favourable for creating and moving small skyrmions, thus research will continue in this area. It also also makes up New York University’s Center for Quantum Phenomen’s wider research into spintronics and how the spin of electron particles works with magnetisation.

Research into racetrack memory will continue, as will the countless amount of research that is being carried out across the globe to find the next best storage solution. One that is light, small, fast, and capable of holding huge amounts of data. It’s certainly a tough mission.


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