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At the end of a microscope lens is a chemical compound that could power the next generation of computers. Think of it as a possible replacement for silicon.
"This may mean that the chip can be made smaller and dissipate less heat," says Stanford physicist Dr. Yulin Chen, Ph.D.
To the naked eye the matter looks like pieces of aluminum foil. Jiun-Haw Chu and Dr. Jim Analytis, Ph.D. are in charge of growing the crystals. Dr. Chin spent months analyzing the results.
"We would grow some crystals and we would come back to him and he would measure them again and say 'Oh, you've gone too far' or 'You haven't gone far enough' and then we would try again," says Analytis.
Dr. Chen essentially fine tuned the electronic properties of bismuth telluride.
This material is exciting because the spin of the electrons can be manipulated and that takes electronics to a whole new level called spintronics.
Electronics uses the charge of electrons, but spintonics uses the added benefits of spin, allowing more information to travel faster. It's enough to make these three researchers dizzy with excitement.
"I feel like part of a story of quantum physics. We've opened a new page in scientific history," says Chu, a Stanford graduate student.
The groundbreaking work is being paid for by the Department of Energy and carried out at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory on the Stanford campus. For now it's all about the science, but some day it could revolutionize consumer electronics.
"If we can successfully make devices out of this material, then it will be very attractive to the industry," says Dr. Chen.
For an industry that thrives on making things smaller and faster, three researchers are unlocking one powerful new tool.
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