The University of Cambridge in Cambridgeshire, England has announced an ambitious plan to become a world leader in superconductor research that will hopefully make Britain a world leader in developing the computing technologies of the future. The Cambridge plan involves a GBP £2.7 million investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
In an official news release from the University, Cambridge officials explain that their ground-breaking project is focused squarely on a new technology known as ‘spintronics'. This technology is based on using a property of superconducting materials known as ‘spin' to process large volumes of information at ever-increasing speeds. Their biggest challenge is overcoming the magnetism associated with spin. Right now, magnetism interferes with data conduction, thereby negating any gains made by manipulating spin to increase speed.
Previous research conducted by the University in 2010 demonstrated that, at least in theory, it is possible to power a spintronic device using a superconductor. Actually doing so is the main priority of Cambridge's new project. But the university hopes to go above and beyond that as well. University officials say the scope of their project is larger than anything else currently being worked on. They have plans to solve the magnetism problem, devise ways the technology can be used for future computing, address storage needs as they relate to supercomputing and, ultimately, build workable spintronic devices that deliver the desired results.
Energy Savings a Priority
Driving the computing world toward spintronics technology is the need to reduce the power needs of data centres while still increasing data transfer speeds and storage capabilities. Cambridge experts say that almost 3% of all the power now produced in Europe goes directly to data centre operations. And with every data centre build, more power is needed to keep data flowing.
Superconductor design is such that when properly deployed, it can increase, or at least maintain, data transfer speeds at low power. Combining current superconductors with spintronic devices makes it possible to radically reduce the amount of power that data centres need to do what they do. Cambridge researchers believe that successful development of their spintronics technology could be the most important thing to shape the future of computing worldwide.
Officials at Cambridge say the difference between their research and what is happening in other places around the world boils down to the scope of the research. Apparently, other projects are mainly focused on discovering the intricacies of the spin phenomenon as an isolated course of study. They say Cambridge is the only institution looking beyond the basics of spin to develop a comprehensive plan for utilising its properties in a real-world setting.
The Cambridge project is certainly ambitious if nothing else. We look forward to seeing what researchers are able to come up with over the next several years of study. If their theories are correct, Cambridge University could be on the verge of initiating a brand new era of supercomputing that has real world implications for the average consumer, business and data centre.