Research on magnetic skyrmions featured in Brown’s IMPACT magazine

The 2023 edition of IMPACT Research at Brown magazine describes recent research on magnetic skyrmions from the Xiao Group on P. 45.

“Physics department interim chair Gang Xiao, professor of physics and engineering, is building devices that generate skyrmions—disk-like magnetic swirls in two-dimensional metallic films—that can change their polarity, motion, and size when exposed to a magnetic field or an electric current. Xiao is already using skyrmions to generate truly random numbers, which might be useful in cybersecurity and encryption, yet he has his sights set higher. Arrays and networks of skyrmions, he said, could form the basis for tiny yet incredibly efficient computers.

Like traditional silicon computer processors, these devices would still be based on ones and zeros (or, in the case of skyrmions, a larger or smaller size), but the way information flows through the processor would be vastly different. When a skyrmion oscillates its size, it changes the state of its neighbors, creating a cascading effect that is eerily similar to the way neural circuits in the brain function—meaning that this sort of device could make huge strides in computing power while requiring only a small fraction of the energy required by existing computers.

“If you built a silicon computer that mimics the human brain, you’d need a nuclear power plant to run it. But humans only need about ten watts of energy to power our brains. Skyrmions could bring us a lot closer to that sort of fast, low-power computation”, said Xiao.

IMPACT, an annual publication from the Office of the Vice President for Research at Brown University, illuminates the trailblazing work of researchers who are pushing boundaries in their respective fields. This sixth issue of IMPACT continues its tradition of spotlighting influential research contributing to global advancement.