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Pronounced /ˌspɪnˈtrɒnɪks/Help with pronunciation

This is a new technological discipline which aims to exploit the subtle and mind-bendingly esoteric quantum properties of the electron to develop a new generation of electronic devices. Its potential is sufficiently great that the US Department of Defense has invested more than $50 million dollars in spintronics research in the past year. The word is a blend of electronics with spin, the quantum property it exploits. Like so many words applied to the subatomic realm, spin has to be taken figuratively as a convenient label for a property that has no equivalent in gross matter. Every electron exists in one of two states, spin-up or spin-down; it is possible to make a sandwich of gold atoms between two thin films of magnetic material that will act as a filter or valve that only permits electrons in one of the two states to pass. The filter can be changed from one state to the other using a brief and tiny burst of current. From this simple device it’s hoped to make incredibly tiny chips that will act as super-fast memories whose contents will survive loss of power. The adjective is spintronic.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 7 Mar. 1998

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-spi1.htm
Last modified: 7 March 1998.