For all its potential, a drawback of spintronics is that it doesn’t work very well with lighter atoms, such as silicon, which the microelectronics industry prefers. Enter Zhang’s new research. In the PRL paper, he and graduate students B. Andrei Bernevig and Taylor L. Hughes show how, in theory, silicon could be used in a related technology they dubbed orbitronics. By using orbitronics, Zhang says, computer chip makers could get the benefits of spintronics without having to abandon silicon.
Both orbitronics and spintronics involve a physical quantity called ”angular momentum,” a property of any mass that moves around a fixed position, be it a tetherball or an electron.