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UW Scientists Receive DOE Grant for Memory Storage Research

July 18, 2019
man working with large equipment in lab
UW researcher TeYu Chien adjusts a scanning tunneling microscope in his lab on campus. He and his research group recently were awarded a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. (UW Photo)

A group of researchers at the University of Wyoming is looking to make a piece of technology that changed humanity even better.

Associate Professor TeYu Chien and four other faculty members in UW’s Department of Physics and Astronomy recently were awarded a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The group’s project is titled “Investigation of topologically trivial and non-trivial spin textures and their relationships with the topological Hall effect” and looks at the magnetism of certain materials that are strong candidates for a new generation of computational and memory storage technologies.

“Magnetic skyrmions are topologically non-trivial spin textures with the potential for use in high-density memory and as logic elements in future computing,” Chien says. “Magnetic skyrmions are protected by topology, which enhances their robustness and stability. Moreover, magnetic skyrmions can be manipulated by spin-polarized currents that are several orders of magnitude smaller than those used for moving magnetic domain walls, thus significantly reducing energy consumption in skyrmion-based devices.”

In short, Chien’s research could make the world-changing microchip more powerful, among other things.

To move the understanding of skyrmions toward this vision, this project is centered on two main goals: creating a variety of spin textures, both topologically trivial and non-trivial, and seeking clues on the ingredients for creating magnetic skyrmions (a topologically non-trivial state); and establishing the relationship between topological Hall-effect signals obtained with the observed spin textures and seeking for definitive ways to detect magnetic skyrmions through Hall measurements.

“With this grant, we can further develop our understanding and capabilities in magnetic materials and topological phases research,” Chien says. “The goal is to establish a strong research program in our department at UW to study frontier physics problems. This grant also allows us to train our Ph.D. students with strong synergy among the research groups with different, but compatible expertise. This kind of student training is one of the keys in building a strong Ph.D. program.”

The two-year grant can be renewed up to two times to allow funding for four more years. It also allows the team to deepen the understanding of initial research efforts on a similar topic that was awarded a grant in 2017 by the National Science Foundation. Chien, the principal investigator, is joined by Professor Yuri Dahnovsky, Assistant Professor Bill Rice, Professor Jinke Tang and Assistant Professor Jifa Tian.

“Our team has well-balanced expertise with nano-characterization, magnetic imaging, 2-D material handling, state-of-the-art transport measurements, magneto-optic measurements and theoretical understanding,” Chien says.

Chien’s group was one of nine projects awarded a total of $17 million in DOE funding. The funding falls under the federal Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program, which is designed to build capabilities in underserved regions of the country to enable them to compete more successfully for other federal research and development funding.

Selected projects cover a range of topics on energy research, including fundamental science in chemistry and materials as well as research to advance fusion energy, grid integration/solar energy, fuel cells and advanced manufacturing. The projects will improve research capabilities in the host institutions through the support of groups of scientists and engineers, including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, working together on common research topics.

The award teams are led by universities in Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, West Virginia and Wyoming.

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