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Wonder Conductors Will Spin ­p Cooler Computers

By New Scientist

September 1, 2010

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Today's microelectronic devices pump out a lot of heat. If only they wouldn't, processors would be zippier, batteries would last longer, laptops could be used on laps and smartphones wouldn't singe our ears. But heat is a natural by-product of what goes on in a computer chip, released when electrons careering around the processor pathways smash into each other and the surrounding circuitry.

Help might be at hand. In the past five years, physicists have uncovered a new kind of material that can keep electrons on the straight and narrow, eliminating collisions and slashing the amount of heat produced. Called topological insulators, these materials conduct electricity by harnessing a quantum-mechanical property of electrons called spin. Unlike superconductors, they can perform this feat at room temperature.

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