We want our electronics smaller, faster, and to use less power than ever before, but sometimes we cannot get what we want. At least until someone(s) figures out how to do it, like a team of researchers from Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology and Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. Their discovery is a means to more efficiently write to magnetic hard disks, without a magnetic field. By sandwiching a thin layer of cobalt between platinum and aluminum oxide they were able to demonstrate, at room temperature, a slightly relativistic effect to rewrite a magnetic bit using only an electric current. The sandwich has an electric field because it is asymmetrical and when the current passes through it, the electrons see it as a magnetic field instead (this is due to the relativistic effect). The result is a bit of data that can be rewritten just by applying a current parallel to the plane of the bit. The experimental bit was 200x200nm, much larger than the tens of nanometers size used in common HDDs, but both further miniaturization and faster rewriting is “easily within reach.”
This development may impact more than just long-term storage devices by enabling magnetic RAM, or MRAM. The primary benefit to MRAM over typical RAM is it is non-volatile, so it does not require constant rewriting and computers could start up instantaneously, as everything needed to run the OS would already be loaded.