Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?

18th Century Pigment to Revolutionize Chip Design? 100

Scarlet X writes "Researchers at the University of Washington have discovered a possible nonvolatile magnetic semiconductor and are investigating its use for 'spintronics,' an emerging technology that is concerned with manipulating and controlling the charge, flow and magnetism of electrons. The possibilities for the material 'cobalt green,' a paint developed by American Revolution era artists, as a spintronics material is exciting. Should the magnetic properties of the paint at room-temperature prove able to reliably control the wild spinning of excited electrons in a processor, not only could the size of processors reduce substantially, but the constant limiting factor, how to keep things cool, could disappear."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

18th Century Pigment to Revolutionize Chip Design?

Comments Filter:
  • While I'm sure spintronics circuits would have their own way of performing calculations, I can't imagine energy wouldn't be expended in the process.

    If energy is expended, then the temperature of the component will rise. If the temperature rises, it'll be likely to require cooling. (Especially as more energy gets expended with designs capable of higher computation loads.)
    • I read that differently. The processor would stay much the same, but the net effect of the spintronics stuff would be to reduce (I thought) dissapation in existing circuits. Power calculations have the frequency component in them, so switching losses could theoretically be reduced greatly. If it allowed miniturisation, and it seems to offer promise there, the capacitive element of power consumption would also be reduced. All we need is a major cpu manufacturer to take a gamble on it and plug a few billion into research, hiring me :-)).
    • we only need a brush and some "special" paint.
    • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @04:13AM (#15864444) Journal
      Hummm. AsI am not a EE or physics, I am curious. In your statement, you imply that the simple use of electricty (i.e. work) generates heat. My understanding is that heat is not part of the work, but due to the inefficiencies of the process. The more efficient, the less heat. For example, a regular light bulb (fairly inefficient as it generates lots of heat) vs. the LED (very efficient and with little heat). Or is my physics off base?
      • You are correct; simply because energy is expended does not mean it's lost in the form of heat. The idea of this paint is that it's magnetic properties control the electrons and, in theory, stops them pumping into things. When they are stopped from bumping into things they won't lose energy - in much the same way that a super-conductor works.
      • When energy is used to do work (i.e. lighting a room), then yes, the heat generated is due to an inefficient process, but that doesn't mean that it is possible to have a 100% efficient process. Actually, the second (?) law of thermodynamics states that a 100% efficient process is only possible at absolute zero. On the other hand, a processor produces no work, i.e. there are no moving parts, it doesn't produce light, it doesn't make sound or an electric current. The only thing it does is move electrons around, i.e. changes its entropy. You need energy to do that, but it's not work: the total (useful) energy emitted by the processor is zero, and all energy used goes off as heat. There is a theoretical limit to the amount of energy needed to flip a bit, spintronic might approach that limit better than electronics, but wil not break it, and this energy will still be emitted as heat.
        • by crgrace ( 220738 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @08:54AM (#15865129)
          A processor does do significant work. For example, the electrons in the channels of the transistors move against some finite resistance, phonons are released as electrons fall from the conduction band into the valence band, etc. It only doesn't produce light because there is a momentum change (hence the phonon) when the electrons do so. In direct bandgap semiconductors, light is released, hence LEDs and semiconductor lasers. The reason there is heat in any processor is the fact that unless there is some resistance somewhere, the clock rate could be infinite since it would imply that any capacitance could be charged up in zero time.
        • Your description of work appears to conflict with what I was taught in High School. It further seems to conflict with itself.

          The second law of thermodynamics states "There is no process that, operating in cycle, produces no other effect than the subtraction of a positive amount of heat from a reservoir and the production of an equal amount of work." (copied from wikipedia ahref= ynamicsrel=url2html-29159 [] iki/Laws_of_thermodynamics>


          • I don't think electrons stop spinning at 0K, just individual atoms stop vibrating. I could be wrong though. I think the idea is that at 0K a semiconductor looses no (little) energy because electrons can flow though the metal along a set path that no longer varies. Heat due to minute friction caused by impact or gaps between the atoms is no longer generated because the most efficient path no longer changes. Electrons can flow unhindered through the metal.
          • Ok, my definition of work might be a little arbitrary. You are right that electrons move around, however I call this a loss because that is not the point of a processor. The point of the processor is to arrange information represented by the position of the electrons. To go on with your analogy of a rock downhill, if you build a machine to bring rocks down which consists of a hill, then this machine is pretty efficient. However, if you build a computer out of rocks, where up the hill means one and down the
        • "a 100% efficient process is only possible at absolute zero." at 0 Kelvin there is NO process, everything halts..
      • Or is my physics off base?

        Completely and utterly. Basically, most energy that is used in most processes, ends up as heat. The difference being that you would use up more energy in the less efficient process for your needs, than in the more efficient one. But even the energy that goes into the desired process enentually ends up as heat.
        You're example with the light bulb is the same. Say you want so many lux from a regular light bulb, you need a certain amount of energy. If you want the same light from an LED
        • This is true. The fact that all the energy produced by a light bulb ends up as heat is widely known, but not widely understood. In particular, this means that during winter, turning off the light does not save energy. The 60W that come off your light bulb all goes as heat, whether directly or when they hit a dark surface. This heat stays inside your house (except the small amount of light going out the window), so basically each 60W bulb means you can use 60W less on heating to keep the house at the same te
          • Now I feel like an idiot, because when I was in grade school I thought my teachers were wasting their time turning off the lights in class during hot weather because the fluorescents were about 75% more efficient than incandescents and therefore didn't produce enough heat to matter. Turns out they were right!
    • by Patrik_AKA_RedX ( 624423 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @04:16AM (#15864454) Journal
      Yes, but suppose 1GHz of computation on a classic device produces 1W of waste and on a spintronic device produces 0.1W then you'll be able to build a processor that can run a lot faster with the same heat output.
      Spintronics is just another tech that might be better than classic electronics. It might end up filling a niche or perhaps a larger part of what is currently done with electronics. But noone (except the people from marketing) is going to garantee that this will be the next revolution.
    • by headkase ( 533448 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @04:17AM (#15864458)
      I'm still waiting for my diamond processor [] that runs at a nice 300 Ghz. And it would probably be an eight core cpu by the time it graduates from lab to mass produced consumer item.
    • by aXis100 ( 690904 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @05:08AM (#15864555)
      Due to the design of semiconductor transistors, they have on (conducting - high amps, low volts) and off (non conducting - low amps, high volts) states. These discrete states have very low losses (power = volts x amps).

      Unfortunately, during the transistion there are nanoseconds where it is in the partially conducting state. Both the current and voltage are at intermediate values, and the power dissipation rises. The more often they switch, the more often these losses occur, which is why CPU heat is dependant on the operating frequency.

      Spintronics may use a fundamentally differnt signalling mechanism which doesnt involve these transition losses.
      • Close. In CMOS logic (which is used in all popular consumer CPUs), each logic gate has two sides, the so called "pull up network" (PUN) made of P-type transistors and the "pull down network" (PDN) made of N-type transistors (it's where the C in CMOS comes from: composite, meaning both P and N type). When the inputs to the gate should make it go high, the PUN's transistors are active--i.e. conductive--the PDN's are inactive--i.e. nonconductive--and current flows from the high-voltage rail, through the PUN,
        • (it's where the C in CMOS comes from: composite, meaning both P and N type)

          C stands for complemtary - originally used to describe a PNP and NPN on the output of an amplifier (the output sections of logic devices are indeed amplifiers).

          The problem is that, as the inputs are transitioning between high and low voltages, BOTH transistor networks are (partially) conductive. This allows current to flow directly from the high-voltage rail to the low-voltage rail, with minimal resistance.

          Normally called c

    • It is possible to process information with absolutly 0 energy expended. If you use a certain transistor to do a calculation and then do the same calculation in reverse it requires 0 energy and produces 0 heat. It is a perfectly efficient process. This is called reversible logic. 06G.pdf []

      This idea is over 40 years old and is well understood science. This is not science fiction and many of the technical aspects of how to engineer a system like this have bee
    • I think you misunderstood the meaning of the statement 'the need to keep things cool'. Or, at least, I'll assume Scarlet X knew what he was talking about. Currently most 'spintronics' in the R&D lab need to be cryogenically cooled (like superconductors). Thus, their off-state temperature needs to be dropped way low (think liquid nitrogen or less), so that when operating their total temp range stays within the regime where the proper properties exist. By room temperature, it would mean no supercooled

  • Prior Art? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @04:09AM (#15864435)
    It definitely brings a new twist to the term "Prior Art"!

    In this case it wouldn't apply, but given the subject mateer it had to be said.
    • There is some precedent. The dye used to produce blue LEDs was originally discovered on the wall paintings of an Aztec temple, if I remember correctly.
  • by moorhens ( 564268 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @04:15AM (#15864447)
    As a watercolour pigment, cobalt green is increasingly hard to find. Winsor&Newton no longer stock, nor DalerRowney. The only remaining major supplier seems to be Schminke. It's a really useful colour for making lively blacks, but the point of mentioning here is that these paintmakers all cite poison/health/product liability issues as reasons for its withdrawal. Best not kiss your circuit board any more than you should lick your brush tips.
    • by Patrik_AKA_RedX ( 624423 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @04:22AM (#15864469) Journal
      If you know what materials are used in electronics, you wouldn't come near it with any part of your mounth. Only recently lead was banned from solder. And that's just one of the many unhealthy elements used in electronics. Most components are just toxic sand.
      • It's funny that we keep trying to eliminate just about everything unpleasant from our immediate environment when the world is full of bacteria laden soil and water, rocks containing toxic heavy metals and radioactive gases, and background radiation. Agreed, our present longevity (at least in the developed world) is largely due to working out what not to eat, breathe, drink and rub on ourselves, but the principal driver of lead free solder seems to have been our unwillingness or inability to teach people to
        • Wait: low sodium salts!?

          Stupid, stupid, stupid.

          What's next? Low hydrogen water? Or maybe fat-free bacon? (actually I think that they already have that--bacon is fat!)

          This world is for no good.
          • Maybe where you live - here in the UK, bacon is principally meat, with a thin edging of fat. I'm told our bacon is similar to what's called Canadian Bacon in the US, whereas American Bacon is similar to what we call Streaky Bacon. Streaky Bacon is rarely eaten anymore due to being horrendously fattening, unhealthy, and simply not as tasty as good back.
            • Streaky Bacon is rarely eaten anymore due to being horrendously fattening,
              and simply not as tasty as good back.
              That's your opinion!

              Disclaimer: I've only eaten turkey "bacon" in the past month.

              • A small caveat: I purchase good quality smoked bacon, manufactured locally, from a proper butchers, so it'll be rather different from the pumped full of water rubbish you buy from a supermarket. If I had the space and a smoke house, I'd cure and smoke it myself.
                • Actually, salt curing a pork belly isn't that difficult, nor does it take long or much room. Basically, you use a lot of salt and other spices (and sugars), rub it all over/around the belly in a large plastic bag, and let it sit in your fridge for a few days. After that, it is cured, and you can slice it and cook it as you like.

                  If you want to smoke it after curing it, once again, you don't need a lot of space - you can make a simple smoker out of old charcoal grille (Weber or similar round grill) and a (get

                  • You've not seen my fridge :) UK fridges tend to be fairly small, and with two housemates, the fridge is quickly filled up with just day to day foods, let alone having a side of pork in a ziploc in the bottom :(

                    As for the smoking, I'd prefer to do a cold smoke. I would build a smoke house in the garden, but unfortunately we're renting, so that doesn't make too much sense.
                    • Oh, ok - American fridges tend to be large monolithic structures (and when you get into Sub-Zero land, they seem to engulf the entire kitchen). A side of pork is fairly large - maybe you could do a half-side of a smaller pig (maybe something 15-20cm on a side)?

                      I agree with you on the cold smoke, but it is more difficult to "roll your own" smoker for that. It can be done similar to the method I described, but you would separate out the smoke generator from the smoking container with some corrugated metal duc

            • Having had some of your bacon (and being an American).

              Your bacon (and Canadian/back bacon) is just a slice of ham.

              Honestly, it can't hold a candle to American bacon. Back bacon is barely as tasty as a regular slice of ham, and American bacon is far more tasty.

              As to American bacon being horrendeously fattening, well, fattening is a function of calories. If your food has calories in it, it's fattening too. And if american bacon has more calories than your bacon, perhaps you could eat a smaller portion.
              • You've obviously had bad bacon, since the stuff I eat is nothing like a slice of ham.
                • The idea that someone's idea of foreign bacon could be colored (coloured?) by them getting hold of a bad example of it. Quite a novel idea. Did you think of this idea before making your post about your views of American bacon?

                  As an additional note, I think it's quite possible that your equivalence between streaky bacon and American bacon might be flawed. I have had what I though was American bacon outside the US before and disliked it. I wonder now if I really had streaky bacon instead.

                  The reason I didn't l
            • actually, that's a fallacy that eating fat is fattening. A lazy U.S. person sitting on their keister all day eating too much fat, now that's fattening. Especially combined with too much sugar intake.
            • I like "American Bacon", and I consistently forget that this is an international forum.

              But, my point remains: why would i want low-fat "American Bacon"? That is an object that really does contain more fat than meat.

              As I recall, however, when I was in Portugal, the bacon there was more like what I got here than what you describe coming from England. Of course, "Canadian" Bacon has its place, and is very tasty in its own right.

          • Yep, Low-sodium salts. Salts are just ion-paired complexes, and table-salt can be converted to low-sodium by replacing the sodium chloride with potassium chloride. Theoretically, better for your heart, and you won't worry about the banana jokes at lunch. (I seem to remember somewhere during my schooling a lot of kidding of people at lunch, concerning whether they peeled their bananas in three or four strips. Allegedly Chimps consistently peel theirs in three sections.

            From Oak-Ridge National Labs, (htt []
          • Heh...although if you ask a chemist, potassium chloride is just as much a salt as sodium chloride is; but a doctor might want you to eat the former rather the latter if you have hypertension, high blood pressure and so forth.

            As for low-hydogren water, you can get that by adding a little baking soda or similar to normal water. Another candidate might be peroxide, H2O2.
            • On the other hand, potassium chloride is also part of the 'lethal injection' method of execution used in many US States. It is an axiom of toxicology that everything is toxic, it is just a matter of dose.

            • Can you drink H2O2? Isn't it poisonous?

              As for other salts than table salt--maybe. I've had some 'low-sodium' salts that were just plain nasty. Others, I'm sure, are much tastier. In order for salt to do what I want, it has to have the right flavor. I cook a fair bit, so I don't mind the artisian salts that are available--they mostly have a neat flavor, but I won't touch a salt that doesn't taste good.
              • > Can you drink H2O2? Isn't it poisonous?

                Not really-- according to Wikipedia, the FDA has approved low concentrations of H2O2 as being "food grade" safe, and it can be found in mouthwash and so forth. You wouldn't want to drink a lot of it or at full strength concentration because it is a bleaching agent & oxidizer.

                > As for other salts than table salt--maybe. I've had some 'low-sodium' salts that were just plain nasty.

                Agreed, I'd rather use a small amount of real salt rather than a larger amount
        • It's utterly bizarre that we worry about a few grammes of lead in solder but drive around in cars containing huge lead filled batteries, all of which are of course disposed of responsibly, aren't they? We pay for expensive granite kitchen worktops that contain, among other things, uranium. We eat "low sodium" salt that contains radioactive potassium. Rather than banning everything in sight, perhaps we need to have a basic toxicology course in all art training of the "don't lick the paintbrush, idiots" vari
      • And lead wasn't even really "banned" so much as "suggested not to be used any longer". If you want ROHS compliance, you have to use lead-free solder, but some places don't really require that (yet). I worked at a place that made their own motor coils and soldered the ends and they are still in the process of transitioning to ROHS-compliant materials to this day.
      • Had a tour of a place making gallium-arsenide semiconductors. The basement storage area with dozens of tanks fo arsine was a spooky. []
  • Sven Rinman is spinning in his grave :)
  • Damn... (Score:3, Funny)

    by pookemon ( 909195 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @04:16AM (#15864452) Homepage
    but the constant limiting factor, how to keep things cool, could disappear

    I guess I'll have to buy a heater...
  • Should the magnetic properties of the paint at room-temperature prove {...}, not only could the size of processors reduce substantially, but the constant limiting factor, how to keep things cool, could disappear.
    Lots of assumptions here. Will we ever see this outside a laboratory?
  • They're stressing room temperature as most materials that are spintronic only work when they're really, really cold.
  • Spintronics (Score:5, Informative)

    by kf6auf ( 719514 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @04:58AM (#15864542)
    So a bit about spintronics, or spin-based electronics: conventional semiconductor gates are prone to electron tunneling and require energy to maintain their state. Spintronics utilizes quantum mechanical effects in an effort to decrease the tunneling current through magnetoresistance and stores information in the polarization of a magnet so that it does not consume energy to do nothing more than remember from one nanosecond to the next.

    This research has been going on for a long time - you may have heard of it here [] and it's likely going to take a while before we see it since it still needs to be perfected and then economical and make its way into industry. As far as I can tell by reading the UWNews article, all they did was discover that an old pigment can work. Not that it isn't cool, but it's not really likely to advance science significantly, especially because a previous article in PRL [] which was published in 2004 mentions this effect.

  • by Intosi ( 6741 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @05:01AM (#15864545) Homepage

    Shameless copy from wikipedia []:

    Cobalt green is a translucent green pigment made by mixing cobalt(II) oxide and zinc oxide and heating. It was invented by Swedish chemist Sven Rinmann in 1780. Although it is stable and can be safely mixed with other pigments, it is rarely used because it is a weak pigment for its cost.

    While the timeframe is correct, the sentence in the posting (to me) suggests it's an american invention...

    Sorry for the slightly off-topic, non-american-centric post. Now please continue enjoying your duplicates^H^H^H^H^Hexiting new stories and comments ;).

    • Not only that, but it wasn't used as an art pigment until significantly later... so no, American painters during the Revolutionary era were NOT using it [].

      The first modern cobalt paints date from cobalt green (PG19), discovered around 1780 by the Swedishchemist Sven Rinmann, but not used as an artists' color until around 1835.
    • I noticed that too. dammmmmed Yanks think they invented everything, Richard Pearse > Wright bros :P. They're sounding more like the old USSR everyday
  • by Grab ( 126025 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @05:29AM (#15864586) Homepage
    I love the line "Imagine that random access memory is accessible immediately". What a prat.

    Lesson to all journalists: if you don't know enough to say anything on a subject, don't try to say anything yourself - just report what other people say and you'll be fine. Try to add your own tag-lines, and you'll end up saying something stupid like this.


    • It was even worse than that. Quoth TFA:
      Imagine that random access memory is accessible immediately, like turning on room lights
      I stopped reading at that point -- the second sentence of the first paragraph. If it took as long to energize RAM as it did to turn on room lights, computing would still be a matter of turning on the room lights so you could see your slide rule.
  • Seems to be the real breakthrough! ... uhm, or lacks the slashdot-crew a person who actually knows *sth* about physics?
  • by deek ( 22697 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @07:24AM (#15864786) Homepage Journal
    Cobalt green is people!

    Next thing they'll be breeding us like cattle for electronics. ;)
  • I am sure lots of research funding will get approved for this - the politicians will be all over this one.
  • by master_p ( 608214 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @07:48AM (#15864847)

    ...them [].

    Can I have a hurrah for these []?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    but by chemists, Artists didnt even like it

    The preparation of zinc oxide at the end of the eighteenth century made the development of cobalt green, also known as zinc green, possible.
    The Swedish chemist, Rinmann is credited with developing a process for making a compound of cobalt and zinc in 1780 that he published with the Stockholm Academy of Sciences. Arthur Herbert Church published Rinmann's process in his book, The Chemistry of Paints and Painting. According to Church, cobalt green was made with the co
  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @08:41AM (#15865069) Homepage Journal
    We'll take our Cobalt Green, and a little Titanium White, and just paint some happy little resistors here in the corner.. they'll live right here right across the board from their little friends the capacitors beneath the happy clouds.

    Goodnight Bob Ross, wherever you are!
    • Hehe, as an oil painter and a geek...I find this more than amusing!
    • So does that mean the new "Green Inside" Logo would have to be a little tree living by the happy brook??? Ew that deffinately turns the meaning green inside a little different. ;-)
    • Artists did not favor cobalt green although it could safely be mixed with all other pigments and was a fast drier in oil. The poor tinting strength and high cost of cobalt green kept it in limited use. Field called it, "chemically good and artistically bad"

      We don't make mistakes, just happy little accidents...
  • Uranium used to be used only as a weak dye for porcelain.
  • Nothing seems to live up to its initial hype. There are certainly a couple undiscovered gottcha's in here somewhere.
  • by Phraghg ( 984220 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @05:15PM (#15869707)
    Can you overclock it?
  • Clearly, this is what the founding fathers (of art) meant to communicate in secret and cryptic paintings... now we'd best get Intel cracking on the DaVinci code... --Ray
  • Is there a way that this could be used to help the development of MagLev trains?

Evolution is a million line computer program falling into place by accident.