London: Magnetic materials form the basis of most hard disc drives as they are able to store data. Now, a team from the University of Sheffield has proposed that they could also be used to perform calculations and so take on the role of a computer's central processing unit (CPU).
Magnetic materials are useful for data storage because they can retain information without consuming energy.
"A computer built around a CPU made of magnetic materials should be much more power efficient than existing technologies, as it should be able to function with minimal energy consumption," said lead researcher Tom Hayward.
Using computer simulations, the team has shown it is possible to create magnetic "logic gates", the fundamental building blocks of a CPU, using magnetic materials.
In wires of magnetic material, 200 times thinner than a human hair, magnetism can form swirling tornadoes known as magnetic vortex domain walls.
"In our simulations, we use vortices where the magnetism turns clockwise to represent 0 and vortices where it turns anti-clockwise to represent 1, allowing us to encode binary data," Hayward added.
The vortices are then flowed through the wires using carefully defined features in the wires that recreate the function of "logic gates".
The researchers now plan to build experimental prototypes of the "logic gates" and to investigate whether they can be made smaller as well as to operate faster - critical steps in developing the concept into a usable technology.
The results were published in the journal Physical Review Applied.