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Complex Materials Can Self-Organize Into Circuits, May Form Basis For Multifunction Chips

By Oak Ridge National Laboratory

September 19, 2016

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Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) say they have discovered unique behaviors of nanoscale materials that could advance microprocessor technology.

Their study found a single crystal complex oxide material can behave like a multicomponent electrical circuit when confined to nanoscales. This attribute stems from the phase separation of certain complex oxides, in which different regions in the material have various electronic and magnetic properties. These individual nanoscale regions are then able to behave as self-organized circuit elements and can be controlled through magnetic and electrical fields.  

As the technology industry looks to move beyond the limits of silicon-based chips, the ORNL study shows phase-separated materials could provide a multifunctional solution, handling several inputs and outputs tailored to the needs of a specific application.

"The new approach aims to increase performance by developing hardware around intended applications," says ORNL's Zac Ward. "This means that materials and architectures driving supercomputers, desktops, and smartphones, which each have very different needs, would no longer be forced to follow a one-chip-fits-all approach."

The approach was demonstrated on a material called LPCMO, but Ward notes other phase-separated materials could be leveraged as well.

From Oak Ridge National Laboratory
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