By: Carmen Montijo
Physics faculty member Weigang Wang has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for studying ultra-low energy switching in spintronic devices. The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is the Foundation's most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research.
Dr. Wang’s research focuses on the area of spintronics, where explicit effort is made to use spin, an inherent quantum-mechanical property of electrons, to achieve novel functionalities. A unique advantage of spintronic structures is their nonvolatility: the information they store is retained and remembered even after power is removed from the devices. Nonvolatility is particularly important for the nascent generation of digital devices in which transistor dimensions will be reduced to only a few nanometers. At this scale the power consumption of traditional complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) transistors will be dominated by leakage current; whereas, for spintronic structures such energy waste can be completely eliminated. An important drawback for spintronics is the lowest recorded switching energy to flip electron spins between their up or down states—akin to 1s and 0s in binary computer instructions—is still more than two orders of magnitude higher than a CMOS transistor, which severely limits the present applications of spintronic devices. The five-year award with the support of $500,000 from NSF will enable Dr. Wang’s team to explore novel physics and materials that could potentially lead to a dramatic reduction in the switching energy of spin-based devices. By successfully demonstrating ultra-low energy switching, this research broadly impacts a wide range of spintronic devices as well as emergent technologies such as wearable computers and the Internet of Things, for which zero power consumption in the standby state is critical and highly desired. The multidisciplinary nature of the research will involve multiple levels of education, from high school to graduate students. In particular, Dr. Wang will work with local high schools in Tucson to encourage and inspire underrepresented minority students to study Physics or other STEM majors at the University of Arizona.