The new technology, which the researchers call spinplasmonics, may be used to create incredibly efficient electron spin-based photonic devices, which in turn may be used to build, for example, computers with extraordinary capacities.
"We've only just begun to scratch the surface of this field, but we believe we have the physics sorted out and one day this technology will be used to develop very fast, very small electronics that have a very low power consumption," said Elezzabi, the Canada Research Chair in Ultrafast Photonics and Nano-Optics and an electrical and computer engineering professor at the U of A.
Elezzabi's work addresses a number of challenges that, to this point, have hindered further advancement in computer electronics, such as in the creation of smaller devices. One such challenge is that as traditional, silicon-based semiconductor devices approach the nanoscale, the laws of quantum physics take control over their performance (specifically the flow of charges—i.e. electrons) and render them inoperable.
"With the development of this technology I envision a move from semiconductors [silicon chips] to metal based electronics with light-driven circuits," Elezzabi said.
Researchers in the field of spintronics have tried to address this problem by building metal-based devices that harness the magnetic quantum properties of the spin of electrons. Although the spintronics field is barely a dozen years-old, some devices that incorporate spintronics technology are already on the market.
The field of plasmonics, which is even younger than spintronics, involves the transfer of light electromagnetic energy into a tiny volume, thus creating intense electric fields—a phenomenon that has many scientists rethinking the laws of electromagnetics on a nanoscale. The plasmonics field has many wide-ranging applications, from guiding light through metal wires, to bio-sensing, to making objects invisible to the eye.