Silicon Spintronics

By Ian Appelbaum

Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Delaware, Newark, DE

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"Electronics" uses our ability to control electrons with electric fields via interaction with their fundamental charge. Because we can manipulate the electric fields within semiconductors, they are the basis for microelectronics, and silicon (Si) is the most widely-used semiconductor for integrated microelectronic circuits. The electron's magnetic moment, called spin, has been known for over eighty years, and its existence explains (among other things) the static magnetic field of permanent magnets. Our understanding of electron spin manipulation has led to information-storage applications such as high-sensitivity magnetic field sensors for hard-drives (Giant Magneto-Resistance - or GMR - devices), and devices for non-volatile random-access memory called Tunnel Magneto-Resistance (TMR) devices; however, it has not yet found use in information-processing circuits. To enable spin-based integrated circuits, long spin lifetimes are necessary to enable multiple logic operations before depolarization and decoherence sets in. In addition, long spin transport coherence lengths are needed to enable integration of multiple devices in a circuit. Silicon has been broadly viewed as the ideal material for spintronics due to its low atomic weight, lattice inversion symmetry, and near lack of nuclear spin. Despite this appeal, however, the experimental difficulties of achieving coherent spin transport in silicon were overcome only recently (in our lab here at Delaware), by using unique spin-polarized hot-electron injection and detection techniques with nano-scale ferromagnetic metal spin "polarizers".[1] Using these methods, we have observed unprecedented coherence in spin precession measurements, and extracted very long spin lifetimes of conduction electrons traveling over macroscopic distances.[2] Whereas transistor scaling limits will soon suppress progress in microelectronics using Si, its favorable spintronics properties may secure this semiconductor's dominance for the future.


Ian Appelbaum Ian Appelbaum obtained his B.S. summa cum laude in Physics and Mathematics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and Ph.D. in Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After spending one year as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University's Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, he is currently an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Delaware. He has authored more than 30 peer-reviewed journal articles and is the recipient of the National Science Foundation's CAREER award and the University of Delaware's Outstanding Junior Faculty Member of the College of Engineering for 2008.

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  1. Ian Appelbaum, B.Q. Huang, and D.J. Monsma, "Electronic measurement and control of spin transport in silicon," Nature 447, 295 (2007).
  2. B.Q. Huang, D.J. Monsma, and Ian Appelbaum, "Coherent spin transport through a 350-micron-thick silicon wafer," Phys. Rev. Lett. 99, 177209 (2007).

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  • Ian Appelbaum (2008), "Silicon Spintronics,"

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