Michigan Engineering News

Outlaw alloys

Metals that court chaos could be the future of computing.

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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