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Expert on Nanoelectronic Computing Leads Team at New Center

May 22, 2019Georgetown physics professor Kai Liu is a team leader for the university’s collaboration with a University of Minnesota research center designed to significantly advance the field of nanoelectronic computing.

What is SMART? Liu is leading a team working with the Center for Spintronic Materials in Advanced Information Technologies (SMART) in Minnesota. Other universities working with the center include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Maryland.

What is Spintronics? Spintronics refers to the study of the electron’s spin and its associated magnetic phenomena in solid-state devices, which includes the hard-disk drives, memory and logic devices used in computers. The research holds the potential for new technology and computational systems that are faster, more reliable and use less energy than traditional electronics.

“The energy consumption in today’s electronics has become a critical challenge,” says Liu, who will become a McDevitt Chair in Georgetown’s physics department in August. “Spintronics offers an exciting new paradigm for future nanoelectronics using electron spin as the information carrier, in addition to the electron charge, with vast potentials to fundamentally transform its energy landscape.”

Center Funding: $10.3 million over four years, including a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), and $2.8 million from SMART partners.

Specifics: Liu will lead a team on magneto-ionic materials, one of three themes in the SMART Center’s research portfolio, examining how properties of materials may be manipulated by the application of an electric field through controlled motion of ions.

“This is a promising new approach that could be a potential game-changer,” Liu says. “The all-important interfaces in these materials and, consequently, their material properties, may be drastically changed with a voltage bias, without the flow of relatively inefficient, conventional electric current.”

Georgetown Magnetics Research: The National Science Foundation recently awarded Georgetown a Major Research Instrumentation grant for a state-of-the-art magnetic characterization instrument known as the Magnetic Property Measurement System (MPMS3).

An interdisciplinary team including Liu and fellow physics professors Paola Barbara and Edward Van Keuren, as well as chemistry professors Sarah Stoll, Karah Knope, and Timothy Warren, will use MPMS3, installed in Liu’s lab earlier this year. MPMS3 enables a broad range of ground-breaking research projects and is a timely addition for conducting SMART research.

The state-of-the-art magnetic characterization instrument known as the Magnetic Property Measurement System

Educational Benefits: The shared MPMS3 instrument also will help broaden participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields and provide research experience for undergraduate students through several partner REU (Research Experience for Undergraduate) programs.

“In addition to the fantastic opportunities created for our students, Prof. Liu’s program benefits all of the materials research on campus, both by contributing to our shared resources and by raising our profile in the scientific community,” says Jeffrey Urbach, physics department chair.