The Michigan Engineer News Center

Outlaw alloys

Metals that court chaos could be the future of computing.| Short Read

U-M assistant professor of materials science and engineering John Heron believes that entropy-stabilized oxides—metal mixtures that contain as many as eight different elements instead of an ordinary alloy’s two or three–could one day drive a new generation of post-silicon computing devices. By using both magnetic fields and electricity to store data, they could potentially deliver superior performance while consuming a fraction of the power.

The trick is to develop alloys whose conductive and magnetic properties can be dialed in independently. This could create a metal whose magnetic polarity can be “flipped” with a pulse of electricity. Within the bounds of traditional alloying, it’s an extremely difficult feat.

Heron’s approach breaks traditional material boundaries by piling many elements into a ceramic alloy, creating disorder, or entropy. In the stereochemical chaos, the material begins to make its own rules, creating order from disorder and opening the door to a new world of alloys that are far more tunable and versatile.

Heron has taken the first step by showing that entropy-stabilized oxides can show unprecedented improvements in the type of magnetic phenomena used in hard disk drives. His lab is innovating with them right now–watch it happen in this video, or read the paper to learn more.

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Gabe Cherry
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  • John Heron

    John Heron

    Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

The electrons absorb laser light and set up “momentum combs” (the hills) spanning the energy valleys within the material (the red line). When the electrons have an energy allowed by the quantum mechanical structure of the material—and also touch the edge of the valley—they emit light. This is why some teeth of the combs are bright and some are dark. By measuring the emitted light and precisely locating its source, the research mapped out the energy valleys in a 2D crystal of tungsten diselenide. Credit: Markus Borsch, Quantum Science Theory Lab, University of Michigan.

Mapping quantum structures with light to unlock their capabilities

Rather than installing new “2D” semiconductors in devices to see what they can do, this new method puts them through their paces with lasers and light detectors. | Medium Read