Ruth Mitchell

X-ray technology helps develop 'super' computers

A team from Durham University has become the first to use a new high-tech X-ray facility which promises to revolutionise the world of scientific research. The experimental team, led by graduate student David Eastwoood, will be using the new DIAMOND Synchrotron Radiation Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire to carry out detailed examinations of sensors to be used in computer hard disc drives. The research will contribute to global efforts to meet the ongoing demand for higher-performance computers.

The DIAMOND synchrotron is reportedly the largest UK-funded scientific facility to be built for over 30 years and is designed to generate very high brilliance beams of X-rays for use in medicine, genetics, physics, chemistry, materials and environmental science.

Prof. Brian Tanner, Director of Research in the Durham University Physics Department said: “My group is using X-rays from DIAMOND to probe, at the atomic level, the structure of interfaces in nanomaterials used as sensors in computer hard disc drives. “The state of the art sensors […] rely on an effect where electrons, forming an electric current, tunnel through a very thin barrier of insulating material. The sharper the interface of this barrier, the more sensitive is the device. “We continually have to improve the sensitivity of the sensors used to read the magnetic information because the density of data on computer hard discs has been doubling about every 18 months and continues to do so, driven by demand for ever higher performance computers.”

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