10 July, 2015
Harry Warring, the new Chair of the MacDiarmid Emerging Research Association (MESA) likes spin. Spintronics to be precise – the use of an electron’s spin as well as its charge for the development of new materials. Materials used in electronics rely on the charge of electrons within the material, but the emerging field of spintronics also uses the magnetic properties of a material, associated with the spin of its electrons, to create new advanced materials.
Harry is in his third, and hopefully last, year of a PhD in the lab of MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator Ben Ruck at Victoria University of Wellington. His PhD is focused on building new materials for magnetic tunnel junctions – layered systems where electrons tunnel through the material rather than flowing – based on rare-earth nitride semi-conductors.
It is thought that using semi-conductors in magnetic tunnel junctions may result in better performance than more traditional metal materials. One use for magnetic tunnel junctions is in computer memory. Currently, most computers store data in Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM), a volatile system based on transistors and capacitors that loses information when the computer is turned off.
Magnetic Random Access Memory (MRAM) systems store data using the magnetic properties of materials that do not change unless instructed, making for faster memory access with a longer life and lower power consumption. As this magnetism is governed by many principles of quantum mechanics, spintronics is likely to be highly useful in creating quantum computers that are cheaper, faster and more secure.
The field of spintronics began in the 1980s, and as such relatively few applications have been developed so far. Harry began his spintronics research during a summer studentship in the Spintronics Lab in 2010, which focused on understanding the physics of electron spin and magnetic materials. He is now applying this knowledge by building new materials and incorporating them into active devices to get more insight into their properties and potential uses, many of which, he admits, may not have been thought of yet.
Harry was appointed the Chair of MESA for 2015, a role that keeps him extra busy. As well as representing the student voice on the MacDiarmid Institute’s Science Executive, Harry is responsible for coordinating MESA’s programme of workshops and organising the annual bootcamp.
In addition, Harry and his fellow Committee members are updating the MESA website upgrading MESA Connect – a searchable database that encourages MacDiarmid Institute students to identify the skills, knowledge or capability they need in their projects from their peers. He hopes that this will be expanded to include equipment, as well as other researchers, to encourage connections between teams and groups within the Institute to maximise the capabilities available.
Harry is also keen to add to the topics discussed at MESA events, introducing new workshops to bring the students together to learn about emerging tools such as Arduino, a cheap, easy device for controlling electronic systems. He has a vision for a different MESA Symposium this year, moving the end-of-year event from a discussion on commercialisation of technology to how science can work with Māori business and engage more Māori with science.
All in all, 2015 promises to be a very busy year for Harry Warring, and one in which the field of spintronics and the MacDiarmid Institute are both likely to see significant developments.