Storage in a whirl

The discovery that nanoscale spirals can be formed in the electric polarization of ferroelectric materials at controllable intervals could lead to a fundamentally new approach to information storage. "To change the state of a ferroelectric memory, you have to supply enough electric field to induce a small region to switch the polarization. With our material, such a nucleation process is not necessary," explains Xiaoqing Pan of the University of Michigan. "The nucleation sites are intrinsically there at the material interfaces." With colleagues at U-M and collaborators from Cornell University, Penn State University, and University of Wisconsin, Madison, Pan has designed a material system that spontaneously forms these nanospirals. The work could lead to memory devices with more storage capacity than magnetic hard drives and faster write speed and longer lifetimes than flash memory.