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Spin doctors caught on film

By Hamish Johnston

Three new video interviews with top physicists are now available on our multimedia page. This month’s theme is spintronics and I had the pleasure of speaking with two leaders in that field — Albert Fert and David Awschalom — at the Royal Society’s recent “The Spin on Electronics!” discussion meeting. We’ve also produced a selection of video “vox pops” with physicists at the meeting.

If you are new to spintronics — or if you are wondering what all the excitement is about — David Awschalom of the University of California, Santa Barbara provides a fantastic introduction to the field and explains how electron spin could be harnessed to create extremely dense computer memories and perhaps even quantum computers.

Awschalom also outlines the challenges that must be overcome before we see the next generation of spintronics devices and explains how he is addressing some of these in his lab.

Albert Fert of Université Paris-Sud, Orsay shared the 2007 Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of giant magnetoresistance and is not content to rest on his laurels. He tells me about his current research projects, which include the development of spintronics-based tuneable microwave sources that could someday be exploited in mobile phones and other consumer electronics.

If you store lots of multimedia on your computer, Fert is one person you should thank. He also explains how his research in pure and applied physics was commercialized by IBM to create highly sensitive read heads for hard drives.

Vox pops

And last, but by no means least, we’ve made a “vox pop” video of short interviews with a wide range of people at the meeting.

For example, spintronics guru and meeting organizer Stuart Parkin of IBM Almaden describes how a spintronics racetrack memory works; Ian Appelbaum of the University of Maryland explains why humble silicon could be the material of choice for future spintronics circuits; and Theo Rasing of Radboud University in the Netherlands talks about his lab’s recent successes in flipping spins very quickly using laser pulses. And if you are considering a career in spintronics, you can hear several PhD students explain why they find the field so exciting.

Finally, a plug for the Royal Society, which kindly allowed us to film in its fantastic London premises.

If you are in easy reach of London, I would keep an eye on the Royal Society’s series of Discussion Meetings. I have been to two so far – the first was on the cross fertilization between cosmology and condensed matter physics, and the most recent on spintronics. Both meetings included talks by top physicists from around the world — and best of all, anyone can attend for free (but you must register online ahead of time).

The next physics-related meeting looks like a real humdinger: The detection of extra-terrestrial life and the consequences for science and society on 25-25 January 2010. Confirmed speakers and chairs include Lord Martin Rees, Catherine Cesarsky, Paul Davies and Colin Pillinger.

Hmm, I might go to that one myself!

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