London: Magnetic materials that store data in hard disc drives may also perform calculations and take on the role of a computer's central processing unit (CPU), scientists say.
Using computer simulations, researchers from the University of Sheffield, have shown it is possible to create magnetic 'logic gates', the fundamental building blocks of a CPU, using magnetic materials.
"Magnetic materials are useful for data storage because they can retain information without consuming energy," said lead researcher, Dr Tom Hayward.
"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," Hayward said.
"In wires of magnetic material, two hundred times thinner than a human hair, magnetism can form into 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 anticlockwise to represent 1, allowing us to encode binary data.
"The vortices are then flowed through the wires using, and interacted with, carefully defined features in the wires that recreate the function of logic gates," Hayward said.
The researchers now plan to build experimental prototypes of the logic gates, and to investigate whether they can be made smaller and to operate faster - critical steps in developing the concept into a usable technology.
The results are published in the journal Physical Review Applied.