The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC) and the National Science Foundation of China have jointly awarded a team of researchers from the University of Surrey, UK, and two other institutions a grant of around £430,000 to develop ultra-small-scale silicon structures for ‘spintronic’ semiconductors. It is hoped that the work could eventually lead to cheaper and more sophisticated processing technologies for use in computer technology.

Called ‘Silicon-Based Nanospintronics’, the grant brings together experts from the London Centre for Nanotechnology at University College London (UCL), the Institute of Microelectronics at Peking University and the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute. The Institute for Plasma Physics in Utrecht, the Netherlands, with whom the University of Surrey has long-standing links, is an additional but informal partner for the project.

The proposal exploits the combination of Chinese excellence in silicon fabrication nanotechnology and UK expertise in observing and controlling the way electrons spin within semiconductors. It will last for approximately three years, and will involve several student exchanges between the University of Surrey and Peking University.

Silicon has not been highly studied for ‘spintronic’ purposes to date because of its very weak magnetic properties. This makes it difficult for researchers to manipulate the spins from clockwise to anti-clockwise and vice-versa. The ‘Silicon-Based Nanospintronics’ team has, however, proposed a new way of manipulating electron spins with laser beams, and the research programme has the objective of building a prototype device for this.