Speed limit set for ultrafast electrical switch

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have clocked the fastest-possible electrical switching in magnetite, a naturally magnetic mineral. Their results could drive innovations in the tiny transistors that control the flow of electricity across silicon chips, enabling faster, more powerful computing devices.

Scientists using SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser found that it takes only 1 trillionth of a second to flip the on-off electrical switch in samples of magnetite, which is thousands of times faster than in transistors now in use. The results were published July 28 in Nature Materials.

“This breakthrough research reveals for the first time the ‘speed limit’ for electrical switching in this material,” said Roopali Kukreja, a materials science researcher at SLAC and Stanford University who is a lead author of the study.

The LCLS experiment also showed researchers how the electronic structure of the sample rearranged into non-conducting “islands” surrounded by electrically conducting regions, which began to form just hundreds of quadrillionths of a second after a laser pulse struck the sample. The study shows how such conducting and non-conducting states can coexist and create electrical pathways in next-generation transistors. Via Speed limit set for ultrafast electrical switch.

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