Stanford Magnetic Technology workshop not just about memories

by M. David Levenson, Senior Technical Editor

A Dec. 8 workshop at Stanford U.’s Center for Magnetic Nanotechnology on the patterning and imaging of magnetic nanostructures offered many looks at the future of data storage, including unique fabrication technology used to make heads with state-of-the art sensors, and the challenges of “bit patterned media.” Several interesting presentations also delved into medical and biotech applications of magnetic nanoparticles.

The Center for Magnetic Nanotechnology superceded Stanford’s Center for Research on Information Storage Materials founded in 1991, but it is not just about data storage anymore. In fact, the most interesting presentations at the workshop dealt with medical and biotech applications of magnetic nanoparticles. For example, tiny magnetic particles can be bonded to DNA molecules to label those hybridized with known DNA sequences located at spin valve sensors on a chip. The sensitivity is better than that obtained with fluorescence detection, and the equipment is easier to use for diagnostics, according to Prof. Wang. In another medical application, tumor-seeking proteins bonded to nano-magnets were injected to improve in vivo imaging.

Future data storage technology was the subject of several workshop talks. Bob Fontana of Hitachi data systems described the unique fabrication technology used to make heads with state-of-the art sensors 58nm wide and 10nm thick. David Kuo of Seagate described the challenges of “bit patterned media,” where data must be stored on individual nanoparticles. The near-term goal is to create discs with 18nm dots at 36nm pitch on circular tracks by imprint lithography, or perhaps self-assembly. The templates would likely be written by a rotating stage e-beam system — but with today’s technology that would take two days!

The wrap-up talk was given by William Almon, the founder of MRAM startup Grandis and a long-time executive in the data storage industry. He pointed out that the time interval over which technology investors want to recover their money is collapsing, but the R&D effort needed to reach a market is also collapsing due to the availability of infrastructure at places like Stanford. Times are good for technology today, since capital, creativity, and infrastructure are available — the key, he said, is capturing the creativity.

Ten faculty members from a variety of disciplines are associated with the center, which is headed by Prof. Shan Wang, with Prof. Robert M. White acting as executive director, but much of the research is motivated by its industrial affiliates. For $10K/a year a company can become a “member,” receiving publications and participating in workshops; for about $80K/year an industrial affiliate of the center can sponsor the research of a Ph.D. student on a topic of industrial interest, with full access to the unique Stanford Nanomagnetics and Nanofabrication Facilities. A past success was a room temperature spin-filter junction demonstrated by Michael Chapline, one of Prof. Wang’s students. — M.D.L.


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