How can magnets help in making a computer?

The electronic devices such as computers and laptops we use generally work on binary principles that are primarily made with the help of zeros and ones. In simpler terms, they are called semiconductor chips.

This kind of energy utilization won’t be too effective in the future, where net-zero carbon emissions are the goal. Fortunately, researchers aim to fundamentally alter the way computers operate, leading to more robust, low-energy machines. One method is to construct a computer using magnets.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have designed a prototype iron alloy in collaboration with chipmaker giant Intel that might be a key component of future magnet-based computers.

The prototype alloy has a magnetostrictive effect. It is based on the notion that when a magnetic substance, such as iron is immersed in a magnetic field, it gently changes form. You can build alloys that are more magnetostrictive or flexible when their magnetic fields vary by adding different metals and fine-tuning their proportions.

Today, magnetostrictors aid in developing high-quality sensors because we can detect changes in the form of a good magnetostrictor in the presence of magnetic fields, even if they are weak. You can shape-shift a magnetostrictor by employing an electrical current to produce magnetic fields. You may transfer the current’s electrical energy into the magnetostrictor’s mechanical energy that is changing shape.

Magnetostrictors may one day allow us to produce the zeroes and ones that make up the foundation of all computer systems using small, changing magnetic fields.

On the contrary, there is one problem associated with the use of magnetostrictors. Rare-earth metals like terbium and dysprosium are used in today’s finest magnetostrictors. Rare earth metals are unsurprisingly scarce and costly. The process of mining and extracting them is complex and sometimes results in harmful waste.

Thus, a superior magnetostrictor is being developed by combining iron with a significantly less expensive and more accessible element: gallium, soft, silvery metal found only as trace components in aluminum and zinc ores in nature. The melting point of pure gallium is so low that it would turn into liquid in your palms.

Another issue that the researchers discovered while making alloys with Gallium metal was that it became unstable when utilized in concentrations greater than 20%. As a result, they forged their alloy at a frigid 320 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, the energy of its atoms was restricted. Even as the researchers pumped extra gallium into the alloy, this held the atoms in place and prevented them from moving about.

The researchers produced an iron alloy with up to 30% gallium using this process, resulting in a novel material that is twice as magnetostrictive as its rare-earth equivalents. This new, more efficient magnetostrictor might help scientists create a computer that is not only cheaper but also does not rely on rare-earth materials, whose extraction emits a lot of carbon.

In the immense scope of things, the average home computer doesn’t consume a lot of power. The internet’s supercomputer data centers, on the other hand, are a different scenario altogether. While the actual quantity of power used and carbon emissions produced by the centers is debatable, there is no doubting that they require a significant quantity of energy.

Tomorrow’s computers may employ magnetostrictors to function in bits of a magnetic field instead of semiconductors, which require constant power. Instead of requiring constant power, such gadgets would only require electricity to turn a zero to a one or vice versa. The time is not far away when we see such type of computers being made and we will be in awe of them!